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Rocklin teen’s murder sentence in sister’s death upheld, as judge calls new law unconstitutional

Homicide of Rocklin girl investigated

A 14-year-old boy is in custody following the death of a 13-year-old girl at their Rocklin home.
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A 14-year-old boy is in custody following the death of a 13-year-old girl at their Rocklin home.

Rocklin teen Tanner Wood will be sentenced in April to 16 years to life in state prison for the 2016 murder of his younger sister, a Sacramento judge ordered Friday, rejecting a new juvenile justice law as unconstitutional.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles’ courtroom became the latest local testing ground for Senate Bill 1391 as the judge sparred with Wood’s attorney over whether the new law barring minors younger than 16 from being tried as adults for murder and other serious crimes passed constitutional muster. Arguelles ultimately upheld Wood’s sentence.

Wood will be sentenced April 3. He remains in juvenile custody in El Dorado County.

Weeks earlier, a Sacramento Juvenile Court judge upheld the law in ruling that teenage murder suspect Keymontae Lindsey would stand trial in juvenile court in the fatal November 2015 shooting of Grant High School student-athlete Jaulon Clavo.

Lindsey’s trial was put on hold earlier this month by the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal. The appeals court will hear argument on the constitutionality of the new law. A new trial date for Lindsey has been set for Feb. 26.

Tanner Wood was 14 when he killed his 13-year-old sister, Ashley, in the basement of their Rocklin home in July 2016. The shocking crime involving the children of a Placer County homicide prosecutor led state attorney general’s prosecutors to take over after Placer County recused itself from the case.

Wood, 16, pleaded guilty last summer to second-degree murder in the slaying, agreeing to a November sentencing date that attorneys at the time said would spare a trial. At 16, Wood would remain in juvenile custody until he is 18, when he will be transferred to state prison. But the new law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in October, which went into effect Jan. 1, left the sentencing in limbo.

Proponents say the law expands on the intent of earlier reforms set in motion by 2014’s Proposition 57 that stressed rehabilitating young offenders and reducing the numbers of young people in the state’s prison system.

But prosecutors, including those in Sacramento, argue that the new law blunts Proposition 57’s intent by taking away judges’ power to decide which cases should be tried in the adult courts.

Arguelles agreed Friday, criticizing what he called the “mental gymnastics” needed to square Proposition 57’s intent with the new law.

“Prop. 57 was carefully crafted” to give judges discretion over which cases should move to adult court, Arguelles said.

The new law takes that power away, the judge said, by barring 14- and 15-year-olds from consideration, adding that voters who approved Proposition 57 may have reconsidered had they known that SB 1391 was following.

“If it is such a great policy, take it back to voters,” Arguelles told Wood’s attorney, Kevin Adamson, at one point. “If voters thought that 14- and 15-year-old would commit murder, they wouldn’t have voted for it.”

Wood’s case and its implications under SB 1391 also left prosecutors in an awkward position. The attorney general’s office is defending SB 1391 as state law and will defend it against appellate and state Supreme Court challenges.

But state attorneys on Friday sought to assure Arguelles that there were no conflicts in their prosecution of Wood.

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Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.
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