An 82-year-old pig farmer who contends Sheriff Margaret Mims and other local politicians are out to get him was found guilty Friday of carrying a concealed gun in his truck without a permit.
Bill Gaede sat silent when the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court.
During his trial, he told jurors that if they convict him they might as well sign his death sentence.
“If you unarmed me, they will kill me,” Gaede testified, referring to the roughnecks, drug addicts and criminals he said live around him in Squaw Valley, 25 miles east of Fresno.
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Gaede didn’t deny having the gun in his pickup as drove home Feb. 10 on Highway 168 with a load of food for his pigs.
If you unarmed me, they will kill me.
Bill Gaede told the jury
He contended he has a Second Amendment right to possess a gun. Without it, he said his life and that of his family would be in danger because his home of nearly 70 years has become a haven for “tweakers” who rob and steal to support their drug habit and Mexican cartel pot growers.
After two hours of deliberations, the jury rejected Gaede’s arguments and found him guilty of a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed firearm.
Judge Lisa M. Gamoian will sentence Gaede on July 21, a day after his 83rd birthday. He faces up to a year in jail but could get probation and community service since he is caring for his wife, Dianne, who has Alzheimer’s.
Gaede’s trial was unusual because he acted as his own lawyer and Gamoian gave him free reign to talk about his life and why it was important for him to be armed.
He told the jury that he harbored no ill will toward prosecutor Ashley Paulson, saying Paulson was taking orders from District Attorney Lisa A. Smittcamp. He then accused the District Attorney’s Office and the sheriff of corruption, saying he has been a victim of several crimes but has never received justice because sheriff’s deputies never arrested anyone.
“Sheriff Mims would rather see me dead. That’s why she wants me to be unarmed,” he said.
Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said in an email that there is no truth to Gaede’s allegations about the sheriff.
Gaede also told the jury that Mims has bragged about the high number of gun permits she has given out. Yet, he said, he can’t get one.
“The sheriff says, ‘I’m too controversial,’ ” he told the jury.
Judge Lisa M. Gamoian will sentence Bill Gaede on July 21, a day after his 83rd birthday. He faces up to a year in jail.
By all accounts, Gaede is a controversial figure.
He told the jury that he was the product of The Great Depression and that he and his brother and sister felt fortunate to have homemade bread with lard as a meal. He said he has never read a book or had any schooling past the eighth grade.
He said he learned to shoot a gun when he was 6 years old and became a cowboy at age 15. He worked seven days a week at $5 a day shoeing horses and taking care of them, he said.
He recalled buying 20 acres in Squaw Valley about 50 years ago.
Gaede made headlines in 2002 when he used a chainsaw to cut down a tree trunk that many Catholics believed bore a resemblance to the Virgin Mary. The tree trunk took on the unusual shape after being struck by lightning, and a shrine took shape at the site near Avocado Lake. Handwritten prayers to the Virgin Mary were also pinned to the tree.
After he cut down the tree, Gaede reportedly shouted: “You Catholics! There’s your Virgin Mary!”
He was never charged because the Alta Irrigation District, which owns the property where the tree grew, declined to press charges.
In an interview before his trial, Gaede said he didn’t regret his actions.. “There were so many of them. They were blocking the roads and dumping trash all over,” said Gaede, an atheist. “I thought it was kind of stupid to be praying to a tree.”
The jury also didn’t know that Gaede has been labeled a white supremacist. He uses the Nazi swastika symbol to brand his cattle.
In the pretrial interview, Gaede said he isn’t a white supremacist. The swastika symbol was around long before Hitler came to power and had been used by his family as a branding sign since the 1870s. He also said it originally was a symbol for good fortune. “I don’t hate people,” he said. “I just hate people who mess with me.”
On the witness stand, Gaede told the jury that he and his son, Wolfgang Gaede, were victims of crime and the Sheriff’s Office did nothing to get them justice.
In 2012, the Sheriff’s Office identified Gaede and his son as victims of a home invasion robbery. Deputies said the Gaedes were roughed up and bound, and the elder Gaede was shot in the face. Gaede also told the jury that the robbers put a gun in his mouth. The robbers were never apprehended and charged.
In presenting the prosecution’s case, Paulson called one witness – California Highway Patrol officer Elvis Reynoso, who said he pulled over Gaede because he had no license plates on the front or the back of his pickup. Reynoso also said Gaede was not wearing a seat belt.
Gaede was cooperative, Reynoso testified, and told him he had a gun under the console. The gun was loaded and in a holster and not in plain view, the officer said.
On cross-examination, Gaede asked Reynoso if he pulled him over because he had to meet an arrest quota. Reynoso said no; he pulled Gaede over because he had violated the law.
Retired CHP Sgt. Ronald DeChamplain testified that officers confiscated Gaede’s gun but only gave him a ticket because he had no criminal record.
Gaede contended it was an unlawful stop because his truck had a rear license plate – but it was dirty. He also told the jury that his gun’s handle was in plain sight in his truck. “Why would I hide it if I’m going to use it?” he said.
Gaede told the jury he will still carry a gun for protection: “I would rather go to court and face charges than get shot.”