I was, for a time, a police beat reporter in Stockton, so I’ve covered many fatal shootings, but none with the quirky side angle of the killing of Felix Makinano of Lodi.
Police say Makinano, 53, a homeless man, was gunned down by Lodi Realtor Scott Sherman around 4 a.m. Oct. 3 on the 00 block of Lodi’s South School Street. Sherman, 39, has been charged with first-degree murder. He says it was self-defense.
What has gone unreported — either because it is irrelevant to the case, or it was overlooked — is that Sherman stars in a just-released movie four years in the making.
“It’s real awkward timing,” said Chris Balderston, producer-director of “The Case Returns.”
Before we go further, I want to make it clear that, to me, a fatality is no laughing matter. But I’d also be lying if I denied that reporters, like police, firefighters, and paramedics, occasionally find black humor in tragedy. Something about Balderston’s movie rings that bell.
Perhaps because Balderston — who films “virtual tour” videos of homes for sale for a living — actually found humor in the deadly serious incarceration of one of the movie’s lead actors.
“I keep saying ‘Scott free. Scott free’,” he quipped.
Even Sherman, who remains locked in the San Joaquin County Jail, sent a message of dry humor, Balderston said to my astonishment. “Scott is reaching out from jail,” Balderston said. “He said sorry. He also said you’re welcome.”
Nonplussed, I told Balderston that I understood the “sorry,” but not the “you’re welcome.”
“Well, why are you calling me?” replied Balderston, making the point that, for better or ill, Sherman’s arrest further draws press attention to the movie.
It’s an old dictum: Any publicity is good publicity. This case tests that theory.
Perusal of “The Case Returns” website turns up other eyebrow-raising examples of milking Sherman’s murder case for publicity.
“In an unbelievable turn of events, the lines between fiction and reality blur as the character ‘Scott’ from our movie, “The Case Returns,” finds himself facing real-life murder charges,” the website says. “Scott’s real-life ordeal adds a new element of intrigue that you won’t find in any other film.”
Elsewhere, the site announces that “Marketing has been temporarily postponed until the situation becomes more clear.” Meaning the movie will not be shopped around film festivals until Sherman’s case is resolved.
“It’s just such a sensitive matter,” said Balderston. “I feel silenced by the gods.”
The “unbelievable turn of events” that took place in the early hours of Oct. 3 is also unclear, as both Lodi Police and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office are tight-lipped about the case.
Lodi Police were called to the scene of gunshots at 3:52 a.m. They found Makinano with gunshot wounds. He was rushed to a local hospital but died of his injuries.
Sherman and a female friend were located in a nearby second-floor Airbnb they host and ordered to come out. The woman did and was arrested. Charges against her later were dropped.
Lodi newspaper accounts differ as to Sherman’s arrest. By one account SWAT had to storm in and seize him. By a second, police negotiated with him by hollering or by phone and he finally surrendered.
Authorities have not divulged if Makinano knew Sherman or Aguirre, whether they had an altercation, and, if they did, what it was about, or other details.
Police say they found a firearm, ammunition, and drugs in the flat.
Sherman’s attorney, N. Allen Sawyer, says the drug police seized was marijuana for personal use.
According to Lodi PD Lt. Mike Minetti, police found psilocybin mushrooms.
In a statement, Sawyer also said his client served his country in the Air Force, boasted “an untarnished record and a strong commitment to philanthropy and supporting law enforcement,” and “has demonstrated his integrity and loyalty to his community.”
He added, “I urge everyone to exercise patience … allowing the investigation to reach its conclusion, while upholding the fundamental principle of presumption of innocence.”
“The Case Returns,” which had the misfortune to be released on Sept. 30, is a shoestring movie filmed in Stockton and the Delta using local actors. Balderston describes it as a “kind of a parody-drama-psycho thriller.” A trailer on the website includes a swooping drone shot which is actually pretty impressive.
Both Balderston and Sherman are movie buffs. Balderston said his influences are Tarantino and Pixar. Sherman sold homes by splashing them on mock movie posters.
Scott Sherman is scheduled for further arraignment in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Oct. 23. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces a maximum penalty of 50 years to life.
As for “The Case Returns,” “It’s available right now,” on the website, said Balderston, undaunted. “You can get early access for executive viewing.”
“Don’t miss this opportunity,” the website says. “This real-life parallel adds an entirely new dimension to our project, making it an unparalleled cinematic experience.”
Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. His views do not represent those of Stocktonia’s management and staff. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org