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July 29, 2014

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Former tribal leader pleads not guilty in killings

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Alturas Police Department

This Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, photo released by Alturas Police Department shows Cherie Lash Rhoades. Rhoades, suspected of killing four people at the headquarters of an Indian tribe that was evicting her and her son from its land, had been under federal investigation over at least $50,000 in missing funds, a person familiar with the tribe’s situation told The Associated Press.

The lawyer for the former leader of a small Northern California Indian tribe has asked the community not to prejudge the woman as she faces trial on allegations that she fatally shot four people and tried to kill two others at a tribal meeting considering her eviction.

Cherie Lash Rhoades pleaded not guilty Monday in Modoc County Superior Court in Alturas, Calif., to a complaint charging her with four counts of murder and two of attempted murder. The charges carry a potential death penalty.

Afterward, defense attorney Antonio R. Alvarez asked that people not prejudge Rhoades. He said the facts of what happened — "and more importantly why" — have not been fully developed.

The attack happened Feb. 20 at a Cedarville Rancheria Tribal Council meeting at the tribe's headquarters, just a block from the Alturas Police Department.

Rhoades had been suspended as chairwoman of the 35-member tribe just three weeks earlier, pending a federal investigation into allegations that she embezzled from the tribe. The council had evicted her the day before, and the meeting was called to consider her appeal.

Authorities have said Rhoades opened fire with a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, and when she ran out of bullets, grabbed a kitchen knife and chased one of the wounded into the parking lot.

Modoc County District Attorney Jordan Funk said he did not want to talk about a motive at this point. But he noted that three of the four dead were family members, and Rhoades faced eviction from tribal housing.

Rhoades is being held without bail. She waived her right to a speedy trial, giving both sides more time to gather evidence.

A retired Santa Clara County judge was brought in to hear the case because it includes a potential death penalty, Alvarez and Funk said. Judge John T. Ball set a status hearing for April 23.

Funk said no decision has been made on whether to seek a death penalty. He plans to put together a team to consider the question after a probable cause hearing is held in the coming months.

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