Regional district attorneys joined forces Thursday in Sacramento carrying dire warnings of what two bills sitting on the governor’s desk would mean for public safety and crime victims in California.
“This is real life. This is not theory. They are the worst of the worst,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a downtown news conference regarding juvenile offenders who the prosecutors said could not be tried as adults if SB 1391 becomes law. “When we talk about those crimes, it’s important that the governor realize that this is real life.”’
Schubert and chief prosecutors from Amador, El Dorado and Yolo counties called on Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the bills that would rewrite laws on felony murder and how juveniles under 16 suspected of homicide and other serious crimes are tried and sentenced.
Supporters of the bills now on Brown’s desk say they are much needed and long overdue reforms to the adult and juvenile justice system. But the local DAs and the California District Attorneys Association say the two bills go too far.
SB 1437 changes felony murder law so that people who committed another felony, but played no role in the killing, would not be found guilty of murder in some cases. The prosecution may still charge all accomplices in a felony with first degree murder but it is now up to a jury to decide if a person who claims no culpability for the killing acted with the intent to kill or with reckless indifference to human life.
SB 1391 would strip prosecutors of the ability to ask to try juveniles under 16 charged with murder and other serious felonies as adults.
The prosecutors said both bills “are serious threats to public safety.”
SB 1437 is carried by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who has called the bill a “fair and reasonable fix” to standing felony murder law.
“Most people have no idea that you can be charged with murder and given a life sentence even if you didn’t kill anyone,” Skinner said in a statement last week after the bill moved from the Assembly to the governor’s office. “California’s murder statute irrationally treats someone who did not commit murder the same as someone who did.”
“California is on the path to redemption and leaving retribution behind,” said state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, on Twitter after the bill moved on to Brown’s office. Lara, with fellow state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, co-authored SB 1391 as part of a package of juvenile and adult justice reforms.
But the prosecutors Thursday said Brown lacks the constitutional authority to turn the bills into law. El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson all but guaranteed a court fight if the felony murder bill was signed.
“It significantly amends the law of accomplice murder without going to the voters. It’s going to result in litigation – needless litigation,” Pierson said.
Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign the bills, veto them or allow the legislation to move forward without a signature.
The DAs brought surviving family of Claudia Maupin, 76, and Oliver “Chip” Northup, 87, the church official and longtime lawyer and musician slaughtered in the bedroom of their south Davis condominium in April 2013 by a then-15-year-old Daniel Marsh.
Marsh was prosecuted as an adult in a five-week trial in 2014 and was 17 when he was sentenced in September 2014. He was serving the first years of a 52-years-to-life sentence in state prison when a state appellate court decision sent him back to Yolo County.
Marsh, now 21, faces a two-week hearing in October to determine whether the prison term will stand or whether he will be retried as a juvenile, which would allow him to be released from custody at age 25. Judges in their ruling said there is virtually no chance that Marsh will be returned to juvenile custody, but were bound by Proposition 57 to grant the hearing.
One after the other, Maupin and Northup’s children and grandchildren recounted in harrowing terms what happened to their loved ones and their fear that Marsh and others minors who committed major crimes would be released from prison in years instead of decades for their deeds, if SB 1391 becomes law.
“The man who brutally murdered my grandparents and then spent time with their bodies mutilating them – he was calculated, he was smart and he committed the perfect crime two weeks before he turned 16. He knew what he was doing,” Maupin’s granddaughter Sara Rice told reporters. “This psychopath – this convicted murderer – is already serving too short a sentence for what he did.”
The decision stemmed from Proposition 57, the ballot measure approved by voters in 2016 that requires that judges – not prosecutors – determine whether minors charged with certain crimes are tried in juvenile or adult court.
Marsh was convicted and sentenced before Proposition 57 went into effect, but the appeals court in its four-page opinion earlier this year ruled retroactively that the case go to a transfer hearing to decide where the case will be heard.
Marsh was a high school student and one-time police cadet who was honored in his hometown for saving the life of his father who suffered a heart attack while driving. He also harbored grotesque fantasies of death and killing that he made real with the gruesome murders of Maupin and Northup. The crimes went unsolved for months while he plotted – but did not carry out – more killings.
“These are the realities that are now my everyday life,” said Victoria Hurd, Maupin’s eldest daughter. “As a victim, this is my life sentence and the life sentence of my family.”