After being acquitted of second-degree murder, Cameron Jay Helland won’t be spending any more time in jail for illegally possessing the gun that he used to kill a 16-year-old boy.
But a Yakima County Superior Court Judge on Thursday said he will rule later how much — if any — reimbursement for legal fees the 19-year-old West Valley man is entitled to in the wake of his trial.
Helland was initially charged with second-degree murder and underage firearms possession in connection with the Nov. 23, 2018, killing of Davontae Mesa at West Valley Community Park. Prior to his January trial, Helland pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor firearms charge but sentencing was deferred until after his murder trial.
Jurors acquitted Helland on the murder charge, finding that Helland acted in self-defense. Helland said in court that Mesa was choking him from behind during a drug deal when he shot him seven times.
But prosecutors said the evidence, including the fact that six of the shots were fired into Mesa’s back as he was stumbling away, discredited a self-defense argument.
At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Kevin Naught sentenced Helland to 90 days in jail, which he suspended rather than apply time served. By not using Helland’s time served toward the credit, he would not be liable to reimburse the county for that portion of his jail time, which defense attorney Ulvar Klein said would be roughly $12,500.
Also during the hearing, Klein argued to have Helland’s trial expenses reimbursed, including attorneys’ fees, counseling his mother paid for while he was in jail and the time Helland “lost” being incarcerated pending trial — all of which totaled more than $100,000, he said.
While state law mandates that an acquitted defendant’s legal bills be paid by the state, jurors also found that Helland’s use of self-defense occurred while he was committing a crime, specifically selling marijuana to Mesa and three of his companions. That means Naught must decide if Helland can get any money.
“We want Cameron to be up on his feet and get straight into school,” Klein told the judge. He said the state reimburses prisoners who were later found innocent $50,000 a year for their time in custody.
Klein argued that the drug sale was not inseparable from Helland’s shooting Mesa in self-defense. Mesa, Klein said, could have attacked Helland anywhere or anytime, and Mesa was the one who asked Helland to sell him drugs.
But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Nicholas Barrett said that is only true for someone who had been wrongly convicted, and Helland was never convicted on the murder charge.
“You live by the statute, you die by the statute,” Barrett said. “You only get what you are entitled to under the statute.”
He also reminded the court that Helland’s self-defense claim came in the middle of a criminal act. Had the state pursued the drug charge, Helland would have been looking at possibly 12 years in prison, which includes firearms and school-zone sentencing enhancements, Barrett said.
He said the drug charge was not filed because only residual amounts of green leafy material were found in the car, and it was only at trial that one of Mesa’s companions testified that he had taken the marijuana from the car and later smoked it.
But he said the fact that the crime was not charged does not change the fact that Helland’s self-defense occurred during a criminal activity.
Naught said he would issue a written ruling on the matter next week.