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Was A Campground Dispute Between 2 Deaf Men That Led to Death Self-Defense Or Murder?
Grant Whitaker and Mavrick Fischer shared a vision about establishing a deaf community built around agriculture. After a deadly argument, it would never come to pass.
Two young men prominent in the online deaf community who were collaborating on a communal farm project suddenly vanished. What happened?
On August 24, 2019, detectives in Lake County, California tracking the suspicious disappearance of Grant Whitaker, 25, and Mavrick Fisher, then 21, found their car. The vehicle had been abandoned and evidence inside suggested foul play.
Investigators learned that Whitaker was a level-headed altruist with a deep interest in farming. Fisher, meanwhile, was an online influencer who savored the social media spotlight. Whitaker appreciated Fisher’s ideas, according to Whitaker’s friend Marisa Andrade, and despite their different personalities, the men became friends. They shared a vision about establishing a deaf community built around agriculture.
In the spring of 2019, they got a lay of the land, working on various farms in northern California and posting their experiences on social media.
But on August 19, Whitaker’s grandmother grew concerned when she didn’t hear from him. He lived with her in Illinois and had her blue Chevy Impala. Richardson Grove campsite in Humboldt County was the last address she had for him.
Five days later, her car was found in a thrift store parking lot in Clearlake Oaks. Blood evidence indicated that someone had “wounded another person and transported them in this vehicle and dumped them somewhere,” explained Elona Porter, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Evidence Supervisor.
Investigators soon learned that Whitaker and Fisher reportedly clashed over the direction of the communal farm. While Whitaker’s focus was vegetables and agricultural products, Fisher’s was marijuana, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Detective Richard Kreutzer. That led to a bitter rift.
Authorities also learned that days before Whitaker was reported missing he had told friends that he severed ties with Fisher. He planned to drop him off at Lee’s ranch, where they’d previously worked.
Before that, they checked into Richardson Grove campsite on August 19 for one night.
Andrade grew concerned when Whitaker didn’t text her as planned on August 20. When she did receive a text from his phone the message didn’t appear to be from him. The wording was off.
With help from Fisher’s girlfriend, Emily, she learned that Fisher was actually texting her. Why?
It turned out there’d been an explosive blowout at the campsite. Fisher told Emily that during a fight Whitaker tried to stab him and nicked his finger. Then, Whitaker drove off.
Investigators had many questions about the alleged campsite blowout. Was Whitaker the aggressor? Did he flee? Where was he? And where was Fisher and why wasn’t he talking with sheriffs?
A friend named Scotty Jackson contacted Fisher, who was in Mexico. Fisher told him that he had killed Whitaker.
“He laughed about it,” Jackson told producers. “That absolutely shook me to my core.”
The campsite knife attack erupted, Fisher told Jackson, after he told Whitaker that he didn’t want to go into business with him. Instead, he was going to start his own deaf community commune. He then claimed he acted in self-defense and struck Whitaker in the head with a rock.
Jackson reached out to law enforcement after the call.
Det. Jerry Pfann, a former homicide detective with Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said he was surprised that Whitaker was being painted as the aggressor. Online evidence had suggested the opposite.
Investigators had to determine if this case was accidental or, in fact, a homicide that was being covered up. They needed more evidence to finalize Fisher’s extradition from Mexico.
They enlisted Jackson, who appealed to Fisher to tell him where Whitaker’s body was for the sake of the victim’s family. Fisher said he dumped the body at Lee’s ranch and shared detailed directions of where to find the body, which was in a sleeping bag.
On August 26, investigators arrived at Lee’s 120-acre ranch with a search warrant. Fisher’s directions led directly to Whitaker’s body, which was flown out by helicopter.
A week after Whittaker was killed, Fisher was extradited from Mexico to the United States.
“This looked more and more like a homicide and less and less like an accident,” Kreutzer explained to producers.
Through an ASL interpreter, Fisher described how the fight broke out in their tent over the men’s differences about the plans for the communal farm.
Fisher claimed that Whitaker cut him with a knife and he feared for his life. He got a rock that fit in the palm of his hand and struck Whitaker in the head with it 20 times before he died.
He took the body to Lee’s ranch. He didn’t want to go to jail so he fled by bus to Tijuana, Mexico.
Fisher maintained he acted in self-defense and that Whitaker’s death was an accident. Would the evidence support that claim?
The bloody tent proved to be problematic. Blood patterns suggested that Whitaker was lying down, possibly sleeping, when he was struck with the rock. But because the tent had been folded it wasn’t possible to make definitive conclusions.
Autopsy results indicated that Whitaker’s skull had been crushed. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, Lake County Record-Bee reported.
“The only way that could have happened was with a large rock being held with two hands and brought down on the skull,” said Kreutzer.
The autopsy ruled the death a homicide and revealed the brutality of the attack. The first or second hit “would have incapacitated Grant so that Maverick could have gotten away,” said Porter. “But he continued to hit him until his skull caved in.”
Fisher was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, assault with a deadly weapon and auto theft. Because of the self-defense theory, Fisher was also charged with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, according to Lake County District Attorney Susan Krones.
The trial began in October 2020. Fisher was found not guilty of first-degree murder. He was, however, convicted of involuntary manslaughter and theft of the vehicle.
Fisher was sentenced to four years behind bars. He served 19 months and was released on March 24, 2021.