Susie Mellen 1973
Suzy Mellen Today
Surviving the System
The Suzy Mellen Story
This is the story of Suzy Mellen and how she ended
up with a life sentence for a murder she did not commit. It’s
not just a case of factual innocence, but “actual” innocence.
Suzy has been in prison for nine years now, and if it weren’t
for her belief in God these surroundings would have swallowed
her up and engulfed her in a sea of despair by now. The reason
it has taken nine years for someone to tackle such a grievous
err or is simply the same reason Suzy got convicted in the first
place: the system is not set up to protect people who cannot
fight it. Who trusts in the judicial system? Suzy is not
stupid by any stretch of the imagination. She is a survivor and
a hard working 50 year old lady who simply does not have the
skills needed to tackle such a corrupt system. I have chosen to
write Suzy’s story and a well respected, proven jailhouse lawyer
has agreed to take on Suzy’s case. Therefore, any opinions
expressed herein are my own and are based on two years of asking
probing questions of Suzy, the answers to which aren’t always
easy to obtain. I know my friendship with Suzy will never end,
and I have decided if I do nothing else with the rest of my life
it will be to see that Suzy walks out of here a free woman.
It’s difficult, as I said, to question Suzy about
the events of nine years past. Ask her a simple question and
she will answer with a rambling, tangential stream of thoughts
dancing all around the question, serpentining the answer. Suzy
is a pleaser. A nurturer. She was that way with her children
and with her friends and everyone who knew her.
Suzy was also a methamphetamine user and sold these
drugs as well. She was no angel as far as the law was
concerned, but she could never hurt anyone. Quite the opposite.
Suzy is all about helping people. She has faith and a pure
heart that is unfaltering in spite of this tornado of events
which brought her to VSPW (Valley State Prison for Women) for
the rest of her life. Life without the possibility of parole.
I want to tell you the story of the injustice done
to Suzy, and the story is really much bigger than her plight. It
is the story of our criminal justice system’s prevailing need to
find fault - to place blame somewhere... anywhere.
It is unreal and chilling even to write these words,
knowing lives are so easily expendable in this system. But it’s
true. Suzy’s life was indeed expendable. She just didn’t
I have spent countless hours talking to Suzy,
reading her trial lawyer’s file, her transcripts and all of her
appellate work in order to piece together what may have
happened. Always with lingering doubt, I tried to find
inconsistencies which would lead me to conclude my own belief in
this system. But that never happened. Suzy, with her
simplistic logic and inability to tell a lie, did not disappoint
me. She is telling the truth and all of the paperwork proves
it. Of course there are still many unanswered questions which
could easily be tackled by a competent investigator. This was,
of course, not provided to Suzy during her trial. Her lawyer,
Lou Notrica, also a family friend, was hired by Suzy’s mother
and paid approximately $25,000. His incredible incompetence
plays a significant role in Suzy’s a conviction.
We have attempted to seek investigative help, but it
costs much more money than Suzy or her family has. Therefore my
hope is that once we get back into court an investigator will be
appointed and many of the unanswered questions can be brought to
the light to aid in Suzy’s release. Of course all this should
have been done nine years ago, then this tragedy would not have
to be written about today.
On July 21, 1997, a homeless man named Rick Daly was
murdered in Lawndale, CA, his body then transported to San
Pedro, dumped in an alley and set on fire. Mr. Daly had at one
time been Suzy’s boyfriend, and the abandoned house where he was
killed was Suzy’s mother’s home. These facts, plus the
testimony of one “make-or-break” witness, are all that tie Suzy
to the crime. There was no motive, no evidence and no witnesses.
Mr. Daly was beaten and kicked to death and a rag
was shoved down his throat to suffocate him. There were two
other people arrested — Chad Landrum (“Ghost”) and Lester
Molliker (“Wicked”). Only Ghost and Suzy were convicted, while
Wicked walked free after being acquitted by a jury. Ghost and
Wicked were part of the “Lawndale Gang,” a notorious group of
thugs who were well known to the police department. The Mellen
family was also well known, especially Suzy’s brothers Mike and
Bob. Mike has been in and out of prison his whole life, and at
one time successfully sued the police department. Of all the
Mellen children, Suzy was the good one. Her daddy’s favorite.
Her mother’s baby. She was spoiled and favored.
When Suzy was about 28 years old, she was introduced
to meth and was a casual to moderate user for years, although
functional in every sense of the word. She had only one entry
on her rap sheet when she was arrested for Daly’s murder, a
credit card fraud for which she received probation. Suzy didn’t
come to the attention of law enforcement the way her brothers
did. Nonetheless, it was common knowledge the police were
overjoyed to have captured a Mellen.
In February 1997 Suzy and her two youngest children
were living with her mother at the Firmona address, Suzy acting
as caregiver. She was no longer seeing Daly, as he was what Suzy
would call “an unemployed homeless loser who didn’t even have a
car.” They remained friends nonetheless and saw each other on
occasion, usually in the context of the drug world they were
both still a part of.
Suzy’s mother, Alleene, was fighting the after
affects of lung cancer, and was attached to an oxygen machine.
With two children and a mother to care for, life was not
terribly easy for Suzy. But she loved her family and did the
best anyone could under the circumstances. Alleene’s sister
Nancy and her husband Roger Barnes were concerned about
Alleene’s health and welfare and, I suspect, her assets which
they must have suspected were being mingled with those of the
drug users and other activities the Mellen boys were involved
That same month they came with the L.A. County
Sheriff’s Office (Lennox station) to visit Suzy and her mother.
The deputies brought with them a printout of Suzy’s short rap
sheet, and along with Nancy and Roger, threatened to take away
the homes due to suspected drug dealings. Nancy and Roger also
talked Alleene into living with them, leaving Suzy and her
children to occupy the house on their own. There was an
apartment attached to the house where a lady named Maryann
In March, both Suzy and Maryann moved out; Suzy with
her then boyfriend Tom Schenkelberg. At that time, Judy Mellen
(Mike’s wife - he was in prison) started living there. There
then continued to be drug activity in the front house. Judy
stayed until June and then moved on herself. Suzy would then
drive by the house periodically to check on the house and to see
that the windows were still boarded up. The house next door was
occupied by Bob and Wende Mellen, although owned by Alleene.
There was, of course, drug trafficking at that residence and
soon Wende was served with an eviction notice by Alleene via
Aunt Nancy & Uncle Roger. (They were later forcefully evicted.)
Perhaps only peripherally and maybe not, there was a
classic case of elder abuse weaving around the Daly drama which
was unfolding. Using classic social isolation tactics, Nancy &
Roger did not allow Alleene to talk privately with Suzy or
others. They had her create a new will, in effect naming
themselves to inherit, disallowing Alleene’s previous will,
which left her estate equally divided between her three
children. This document was created by Attorney Jensen of
Huntington Beach. Suzy saw this document which was signed by
“Alleene Melleen”, the misspelling of her last name causing Suzy
to wonder who “really” signed this will.
While checking on the Firmona house, Suzy would pick
up the mail. She saw bank statements and other documents
indicating thousands of dollars every month going out, showing
clearly Alleene was supporting Nancy and Roger in a very
extravagant manner by Alleene’s standards. Suzy was still not
able to privately talk to her mother, so her concerns could
never be addressed. To this day there is suspicion and mistrust
surrounding the radical change in housing and estate planning by
Suzy’s mother and in Roger and Nancy’s involvement in same.
Suzy’s intention is not to blame her aunt and uncle
for setting her up, but to attempt to sort out, in her own mind,
exactly what role they played in conversations with law
enforcement and others regarding their suspicions. As the
timeline below will indicate, there are other incidents which
cast doubt and suspicion on Roger and Nancy.
In terms of a timeline for this sequence of events,
July 21st, 1997, marks the beginning. This was the day Mr. Daly
was murdered. Earlier that same day, Suzy was moving with Tom
into a duplex in Gardena from their apartment in Redondo Beach.
It was a busy day spent packing and cleaning. Suzy had her
daughter Jessica (then 9) with her and her son Donny (8) was
spending the day with his father. She was expecting Tom’s dad,
Jim Schenkelberg, to come and help her move after work. At 3:00
she went to check on her mother’s house. The windows were still
boarded up and she got out of the car to check the mail when she
saw Rick Daly going into the house through an opening in the
back where people had been breaking in. He told Suzy he was
coming to see Wende and that he had dope to sell her. He was
sitting on the bed at this time, going through his backpack. He
looked so thin ... they hadn’t been together in nine months or
so. It was obvious to Suzy he was using quite heavily. She
said to Rick, “You need to get out and stay out of this house!”
They both left at approximately the same time - Rick on his
bicycle and Suzy in her vehicle with her daughter Jessica. Suzy
saw him riding toward Cory’s house on 164th Street, his backpack
on his back. The last thing he said to her was that he would
come back around 6:00 p.m. to see Wende. Suzy headed toward
Redondo Beach to continue her packing.
At 5:00 p.m., Jim showed up and Suzy and Jessica
went with him to take a load of furniture to Gardena. They made
at least two trips, Tom joining them between 6:00 - 7:00 p.m.
They finished up at 11:00 p.m. when Jim left and Suzy and Tom
went to bed. Jessica had been asleep since 9:00 p.m. and Donny
was spending the night with his dad, Douglas Besch.
The next day, July 22nd, Suzy went back to check on
the house in Lawndale, and she saw Wicked’s mother inside the
house doing a load of laundry and cleaning the floor. Her most
pressing concern was this woman in her mother’s house. Suzy
said, “What are you doing here?” Mrs. Molliker replied,
“Cleaning up and doing a load of laundry.” Suzy said, “You’re
not even supposed to be here!” and left. She thought it odd that
Wicked’s mother would be in the house at all, but was in a hurry
so she did not stick around.
On Thursday, July 31st, Suzy went to Cory Vasquez’s
house in Lawndale to visit her and her new baby, fathered by
Suzy’s nephew David. Cory was currently seeing Rick Daly, and
it was Cory’s house Rick was headed to when Suzy last saw him.
Cory told Suzy, “Ginger (Ginger Welborn, another bald—headed
member of the Lawndale gang) is coming over in awhile to tell us
about Rick.” When Ginger arrived, she told Suzy end Cory that
Ghost murdered Rick and that Rick “deserved what he got.” Ginger
hated Rick Daly, calling him a snitch. She said it was
“crucial” and he deserved what he got. She told Suzy she had to
“step out of the house because it was bad.” She also told Suzy
it happened at the Firmona house. T his led Suzy to believe
Ginger had been there.
Suzy went straight to Wende’s house and there she
was Cindy Chavez, a friend of Rick’s and also of Ghost and
Wicked. “Cindy,” said Suzy, “please tell me, is it really true
about Rick?” Cindy confirmed it. That night Suzy called her
mom, aunt and uncle telling them Rick Daly had been murdered on
The next day, Friday, August 1st, a fire was started
at the abandoned Firmona Street home. Shortly thereafter, when
Suzy drove by once again to check on the status of the house,
she saw her aunt and uncle who were meeting with a large built
African-American insurance agent (“George?”) who was there to
assess the damage. Suzy joined the meeting, and when she
started to say something, was prodded by her uncle not to talk
to the agent. It was at this time Suzy noticed the boards had
all been removed from the residence windows. Suzy believes the
aunt and uncle wanted to leave the impression the house had been
occupied so that a valid insurance claim could be made. Indeed,
a check was issued to Suzy’s uncle in payment of claim made on
her mother’s behalf.
At this point in time, there still was no
correlation made between the John Doe the police had found
burned in that San Pedro alleyway and the house on Firmona by
the police department.
On August 13th June Patti telephoned Suzy in the
middle of the night in their condo in Redondo Beach. Suzy
remembers asking June how she got her phone number as she had
not spoken to her in a long time and in fact Suzy did not like
June Patti. She was a known “rat” and had a bad reputation.
She called to see if she could buy meth from Suzy, and Suzy
told her no, that she didn’t have any and told her not to call
again. This was the essence of the conversation and Suzy never
spoke with her again.
The following Monday Suzy had gone to visit her
mother and found her to be alone. Within five minutes, her aunt
and uncle joined them, having just come home from the police
department. Roger said, “What the hell are you doing here? Why
didn’t you call first?” They told Suzy they had just spoken
with the police and that they were looking for Suzy with regard
to the murder of Rick Daly.
They also said someone had seen her coming from the
Firmona property on the day of the murder. There continues to be
a bad taste in Suzy’s mouth about her aunt and uncle’s
involvement with the police - almost feeling as if they were the
informant and that they were anxious to get her out of the way.
Three days later, August 21st, Douglas Besch visited
Suzy and told her the police really were looking for her. On
August 25th Suzy called Investigator Winn and agreed to meet her
at McDonald’s to tell her what she knew about the murder. Once
there, she was handcuffed and taken into custody.
Throughout Suzy’s questioning, preliminary hearing
and jury trial Suzy’s story never changed. It is essentially
what is briefly written about here. She was convicted of first
degree murder with special circumstances (torture) and sentenced
to life without.
It seems Miss June Patti, a known informant,
fabricated a story for the police that Suzy had gone to her for
legal advice because she was a paralegal. Suzy was supposedly
nervous, as Miss Patti would tell it, as she was either there or
knew what happened when Rick Daly was murdered. Miss Patti’s
story changed several times throughout this ordeal, but that
didn’t seem to matter to the jury.
attempt was made by Attorney Lou Notrica to discredit Miss
Patti. There exists a letter (we have it) which June Patti wrote
to the District Attorney wherein she asks for clemency for two
pending criminal cases in exchange for her testimony about
Suzy’s involvement. This was never even mentioned during the
trial. The three defendants’ trials were separated and “Ghost”
was also given a life without sentence while Wicked walked. The
first time Suzy ever saw Ghost was in a jail transportation van,
when he spoke briefly with her.
Suzy’s trial took 10 days and on June 5th, 1998,
Suzy was sentenced after spending ten months in county jail.
Suzy’s lawyer was incredibly incompetent. He even
fell asleep during certain phases of the trial. There was very
little cross examination. Suzy didn’t stand a chance. She never
had an investigator and Mr. Notrica paid little attention to her
few concerns. It was truly a slam dunk as far as the D. A. was
concerned. There was no fight left in Suzy.
Suzy lives in a small cell with seven other women
originally built to hold four. There is constant stress,
crowding, noise and regimentation. She struggles with periods
of depression, usually based on how long it’s been since she has
heard from her children. This is becoming more infrequent as
they are young adults now, caught up in their own world without
their mother. Suzy works as a porter and lives in the honor
dorm. She watches only spiritual television and spends all her
time ministering to others, praying, writing letters and
encouraging other women who are in pain.
Suzy is defined now by her spirituality, not by her
surroundings. But it’s time she starts to fight, and that’s my
job. I know it will be an uphill battle, but I also know in my
heart she will eventually get out of here. The truth has got to
come out and it will set her free. The statistics are
discouraging, but God knows the truth.
September 22, 2007
By Mari Gray
In last night’s legal mail news came that the
Innocence Project in San Diego has officially picked up Suzy’s
case. This is the news we have been waiting so patiently for. Of
course, this is only the beginning of much hard work by many
caring and devoted people.
None of this would have been possible had so many
things not occurred. They include, but are not limited to:
never gave up trying to be heard. Anyone she could write, she
would. She always proclaimed her innocence.
up listening. I made it my “job” to make sure Suzy’s story was
heard by anyone who could helm her.
Ogilvie got us started in the right direction listening,
believing in Suzy’s innocence, and helping us obtain documents
and transcripts. She was the greatest cheerleader (although she
hated that word) and gave us the confidence to persevere. (Jan
passed away 07/30/07 while serving a life sentence.)
(my friend) placed an ad on Suzy’s behalf on Craig’s List,
seeking legal assistance. If that one detail were omitted in
this scenario, none of this would have happened.
saw the ad, was moved by it and agreed to help in any way he
could to prove her innocence. Obviously this is the cornerstone
of Suzy’s success in getting back into court. None of this
would have been possible had Mark not been a tenacious
investigator, a caring human being, or if he did not have faith
in Suzy. He never gave up, spent his own time and resources to
prove Suzy’s innocence, and put up with more “drama” than anyone
can imagine. He did it because it was the right thing to do.
Neither Suzy nor I will ever forget that.
many prayers were heard and answered. Suzy’s faith never
waivered, and she will no doubt devote her time and energy, once
freed, serving God.
The light at the end of the tunnel just got a little
brighter! Now it’s just a matter of time before these gates
will be opened up and Suzy will walk free. Stay tuned!
If you would like to
write Suzy, she would love to hear from you! Please send
all correspondence to:
- Susan Mellen #W-74723
- VSPW – D1-29-03L
- P.O. Box 92
- Chowchilla, CA 93610-0092
- When writing please include a self-addressed
stamped envelope. This helps Suzy a lot.
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