A Fresno County judge on Thursday put a dent in Bill Gaede’s controversial lifestyle by sentencing him to three years of probation and taking away all of his guns and ammunition – including his pellet guns.
“You might as well hang me or shoot me right here,” the 83-year-old Gaede told Superior Court Judge Lisa M. Gamoian.
A jury last week convicted the Squaw Valley pig farmer of a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed gun in his truck without a permit.
During his trial, Gaede told the jury: “If you unarm me, they will kill me,” referring to the roughnecks, drug addicts and criminals he said live around him in Squaw Valley, 25 miles east of Fresno. He also didn’t deny having the gun in his pickup when the California Highway Patrol pulled him over on Highway 168 in Fresno on Feb. 10. He said it was his Second Amendment right to do so.
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You chose to deliberately disobey the law.
Superior Court Judge Lisa M. Gamoian
On Thursday, Gaede, who acted as his own attorney, sat alone in the courtroom as prosecutor Ashley Paulson asked Gamoian to sentence him to the mandatory three months in jail. In making her argument, Paulson said Gaede had only a theft conviction in 1988 but had at least five arrests for assault with a firearm, carrying a loaded gun in public and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
Paulson also reminded Gamoian that during Gaede’s one-day trial last week he showed total disregard for the law when he told the jury that he would continue to carry a gun even if he was convicted.
Gaede, however, pleaded with the judge to keep him out of jail so he could take care of his wife, Dianne, who has Alzheimer’s. He also told Gamoian that he needed his guns to ward off coyotes, varmints and intruders who have attacked him and his family in the past.
“I’ve been shot and attacked,” he told the judge. “I’m just trying to protect myself and my family.”
Gaede said he tried to get a concealed weapons permit from Sheriff Margaret Mims, but she denied his application. He argued that as an American citizen he has a right to carry a gun. He also it was unfair that certain people who have been in trouble with the law, but who are friends with the sheriff, can get a permit.
Gamoian, however, told Gaede that everyone must abide by the law. “You chose to deliberately disobey the law,” the judge said. “You chose to carry a concealed weapon.”
In announcing the sentence, Gamoian noted for the record she was not considering all the times Gaede had been arrested. Instead, she said the record shows that Gaede has a minor criminal record and had cooperated with the CHP when he was pulled over.
Gamoian said the gun conviction mandates a three-month jail sentence unless she found unusual circumstances, which she did by finding Gaede is the sole caretaker of his wife and their home.
Gamoian then sentenced Gaede to three years of probation and told him he must take a gun safety class approved by the District Attorney’s Office. Gaede also must obey all laws and allow authorities to search him and his home and vehicles without a warrant at their discretion.
The judge also told Gaede he cannot own or possess any firearm or ammunition. Gamoian also ordered the CHP to destroy the handgun discovered in Gaede’s truck.
You might as well hang me or shoot me right here.
Bill Gaede told the judge
If Gaede violates any term of his probation, he would face up to a year in jail, Gamoian said.
“All of that just for protecting myself,” Gaede told the judge. “That’s a violation of my rights, my civil rights.”
But in the end, Gaede reluctantly agreed to the sentence.
Afterward, Gaede said he hoped “karma comes back to bite the prosecutor in the (butt).” He also said “the Highway Patrol just destroyed my life.”
He also blamed Mims for not giving him a concealed weapons permit. “I’m defenseless and so is my family,” he said.
By all accounts, Gaede is a controversial figure.
He made headlines in 2002 when he used a chain saw to cut down a tree trunk that many Catholics believed bore a resemblance to the Virgin Mary. The 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 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.”
Gaede has been labeled a white supremacist, partly because he uses the Nazi swastika symbol to brand his cattle and drives around in a truck that has a sign that criticizes homosexuality.
But 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.”