February 19, 2009

Frost may face death penalty in Riverbank killings

The Riverbank man accused of stabbing three family members to death Sunday, and injuring a fourth, could face the death penalty if he's found guilty.

Jesse Allen Frost, 38, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court to four charges and enhancements and special circumstances related to Sunday's attack.

Frost, who is 6 feet tall and 265 pounds, appeared in court in a red-and-white-striped jumpsuit.

One of Frost's sisters and several friends watched the proceedings. Two family friends said they were not in court to support Frost.

Frost has been charged with using a knife to murder Donna Norton, Judy Niemi and Anthony Niemi. Friends and relatives have identified the victims as Frost's mother, sister and brother-in-law, respectively, but authorities have declined to confirm the relationships.

The district attorney's office says Frost acted with premeditation.

He is scheduled to return to court March 4. Frost is being held without bail at the Stanislaus County Jail.

He also is charged with attempting to murder Matthew James, identified by relatives as his nephew.

James, 18, was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto with stab wounds Sunday. He was listed in stable condition and expected to survive, authorities said earlier this week. A hospital spokeswoman said James was not listed at Memorial on Wednesday.

Deputies were called to Frost's home, in the 6000 block of Arcaro Drive in Riverbank, for a disturbance. They found Frost in the front yard and took him in for questioning, officials said.

Inside the home they found the four stabbing victims.

Described as 'gentle giant'

Frost is a former high school and college heavyweight wrestling star in Stanislaus County. Coaches and teammates who knew him through 1993 said he was a hard-working, talented athlete, a "gentle giant" without a mean streak.

But Frost fell on hard times, struggling with mental illness and methamphetamine addiction, according to relatives and neighbors.

In 2005, he attacked a Modesto man whose family had taken Frost in as a ranch hand and let him live on their Claribel Road property.

Frost attacked the man with a shovel, blinding him in one eye, according to authorities and the victim's family.

But trying the case proved difficult because of memory problems the victim suffered from the attack, said sheriff's Detective Mark Copeland.

Frost pleaded guilty in 2007 to a lesser charge of assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to cause great bodily injury and was sentenced to 697 days in jail, according to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office.

"He was pretty dangerous back then. If it hadn't been for his mom coming up with money to get an attorney, he probably would have got about 10 years in prison, which is where he should have been," the detective said.

Copeland said, back in 2005, he had a feeling Frost could do serious damage one day.

"There's some cases you do remember," he said, of the 2005 attack. "Frost was real dangerous. This guy had taken a shovel and broken every bone in this guy's face, that's the kind of anger he had in him."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at or 578-2235.

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