HUMBOLDT COUNTY – On March 25, 2022, just as jury selection was underway in the case of People v. Ryan Tanner, 34, Tanner, sought to enter a guilty plea for the February 2020 killing of Jason Todd Garrett, 32, of Garberville, along with guilty pleas for additional crimes.
At the preliminary hearing, witness Christopher Champagne stated that Tanner kidnapped Garrett as Garrett worked on a van along a rural road near Tanner’s property in China Creek. Champagne said that Tanner then lit the van on fire and took Garrett back to his home, where he interrogated Garrett about possibly being a thief. Champagne testified that at one point, Tanner used a knife to cut Garrett’s throat and then used duct tape to cover his wound. Later, Tanner used a rifle to shoot Garrett in the head at close range. Tanner then burnt down the cabin where the homicide occurred.
During the investigation of the case, Champagne had informed Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department investigators that Tanner had threatened to kill him if he did not assist with the murder and subsequent burial of Garrett’s body. It was Champagne who led investigators to Garrett’s body, located in a hidden grave on Tanner’s property.
Champagne’s testimony during the preliminary hearing complicated the case, because it included the false claim that Tanner also murdered six law enforcement officers in the days after Garrett’s murder. However, DNA evidence linked Tanner to Garrett’s murder: investigators found a cigarette butt with Tanner’s DNA close to Garrett’s grave. Additionally, a criminalist from the California Department of Justice found DNA linking Garrett, Champagne and Tanner to the roll of duct tape used on Garrett’s neck.
“Investigations can take twists and turns when relying on witness testimony, and that’s why science and the work California Department of Justice criminalists do with DNA is so imperative to finding the truth. California DOJ criminalists are vital to law enforcement and criminal justice,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona.
Around the time of Garrett’s murder, citizens of the Briceland, Ettersberg, and Redway communities had become increasingly concerned with Tanner’s behavior. A few days prior to the murder, Tanner used a rifle to threaten his neighbors and, on another occasion, stole a car from them while armed with a firearm. Also, in the weeks prior to the murder, Tanner assaulted his girlfriend with a firearm.
Earlier in the week, the judge ruled that prosecutors would be allowed to present evidence of a prior kidnapping a year before the murder, as well as recordings of Tanner during a phone call wherein he claimed that he was the “guardian of the mountain” and if thieves came on his property, they “might end up dead.”
Including his guilty plea to manslaughter with use of a firearm for the killing of Garrett, Tanner pled to eleven counts (each one is classified as a “strike”) against seven different victims. On April 11, 2022, Tanner will be sentenced to 39 years in prison and will waive credit for the more than two years he has already served in jail.