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Murder Trial Disrupted by Medical Emergency

EUREKA, Calif. -- A murder trial was disrupted Friday morning when a witness for the prosecution had a seizure while testifying against her co-defendant.

Katrina Inong, 29, of Hoopa, had a seizure while she was describing how she heard the shotgun blast that killed Jack Sovereign in the early morning of June 1, 2010.

Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who was questioning Inong at the time, stabilized the witness until paramedics arrived and took her from the courtroom on a stretcher. Inong was then treated and released from St. Joseph Hospital, according to spokesman Brian Greene.

Gallegos said Inong has a history of seizures, which are sometimes triggered by stress.

"I suspect she'll be all right," he said.

Inong's testimony is key to the prosecution's case against Ryan Anthony Salas, 26, who allegedly gunned down Sovereign during an abandoned robbery attempt. During opening arguments in the case, Gallegos said evidence will show Salas, Inong, Nathan Nix and Sonia Hunsucker conspired to rob a Santa Clara Street house on the outskirts of Eureka.

On Thursday, Inong testified that she was pleading with her three companions not to rob the house as the four approached the residence wearing masks. She said Salas, Nix, and Hunsucker huddled near bushes at the end of the driveway and she turned to leave the three behind when she heard the sound of gravel, a horn honking and a shotgun blast.

Inong testified her three companions ran back to the car, with Salas toting a shotgun in his hand. The witness said Salas, Nix and Hunsucker exchanged high fives while she sat in the car and cried.

Another witness in the case -- Kelly Gregorio -- identified Salas as the man who shot Sovereign.

Inong's testimony came as part of a plea deal she reached with prosecutors. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and faces a maximum sentence of 11 years in prison in exchange for her honest testimony in the case. Nix also pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge in the case on July 30. Testifying was not a condition of his agreement.

Gallegos' office agreed not to prosecute Hunsucker in the case in exchange for her honest testimony against her co-defendants. Facing life in prison for a murder conviction in a separate case, Hunsucker is now refusing to testify in Salas' trial and is being held in contempt of court.

Because a judge has now ruled Hunsucker is "unavailable" to testify, prosecutors are using a transcript of her testimony at a prior hearing in the case as evidence against Salas.

While Gallegos said he expects Inong to be able to continue her testimony in the case, if she is medically unable to retake the stand, it could pose a large problem.

"That could be a mistrial," Gallegos said.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains what's known as the "confrontation clause," which allows that those accused of crimes have the right to confront -- or cross examine -- the witnesses called against them. With Inong having already offered some testimony for the prosecution in the case against Salas, it could violate the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights if his attorney Russell Clanton doesn't have an opportunity to question her.

Clanton did not return a call seeking comment for this story. The trial is expected to resume Monday.



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