Second-degree murderer Christopher Dunaway, who stabbed a man 23 times when he killed him 20 years ago in southeast Sacramento, has cleared his first hurdle to get out of prison.
At the end of a hearing June 11, a two-member panel of California’s Board of Parole Hearings voted to grant Dunaway his freedom. The decision, however, first must be reviewed by the full parole board before Gov. Jerry Brown upholds or reverses it.
Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully has urged the governor to keep Dunaway locked up. On Monday, she released a letter she wrote to the governor last week that characterized Dunaway as a callous killer, a liar and as a manipulator who hoodwinked the parole panel.
“It is the strong and considered opinion of this office that the decision to grant parole to inmate Dunaway was wrong, places the public at great risk, and was arrived at through an analysis that focused solely on his youth rather than the cold, calculating and vicious manner in which he committed his crime,” Scully’s letter said.
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The parole panel made its decision on Dunaway after conducting a hearing under Senate Bill 260 that was enacted into law last year. The bill, authored by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, provides for the parole board to consider the “hallmark features of youth,” such as lack of behavior control and an undeveloped moral sense of culpability, in considering cases of offenders who had received life or unusually lengthy prison terms for crimes they committed when they were juveniles.
Now 37, Dunaway was 17 years old when he stabbed Dusan Lalich to death on April 14, 1994. Lalich, 49, had just opened an automobile repair shop on Florin Road at Tokay Avenue. According to Sacramento Bee articles on the killing, Dunaway became enraged when he received a $912 bill for work on his Volkswagen bug after having initially received an estimate of $70.
At his parole hearing, Dunaway said he reacted in anger to the “hurt and fear” that he felt over growing up poor and feeling isolated as a student at Valley High School, where he had earned an “A” average.
According to a transcript of the hearing, Dunaway admitted he had planned to kill Lalich and that he had called him up ahead of time and asked him to stay late at the repair shop for the purpose of killing him – elements that if proven at trial would have made for a first-degree murder case.
“It wouldn’t be impulsive, sir,” Dunaway told Parole Commissioner John Peck, about the circumstances of the killing.
Along with Peck, Deputy Commissioner Ted Rich joined in voting to grant parole to Dunaway. They cited the provisions of SB 260 as well as Dunaway’s record in prison – his lack of disciplinary write-ups and his accumulation of several vocational certificates. Dunaway also has the promise of a job when he is paroled, according to the transcript.
Dunaway has been assessed at low risk to reoffend, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Luis Patino. He also has obtained his college degree in prison and has been eligible for parole since 2004. The hearing in June was his fifth with the board, Patino said.
Cheryl Montgomery, the attorney who represented Dunaway at the parole hearing, said: “He most certainly exceeded the criteria established by SB 260.” She said that, based on his record, “he would have been found suitable even if he was not a juvenile offender.”
“This was not a borderline case,” Montgomery said. “This is a man who has worked incredibly hard to come to terms with the things that were problematic for him in his life.”
Lalich’s daughter, Sandy Matye, and other relatives of the victim spoke out at the hearing in opposition to Dunaway’s parole.
“We’re just hoping they reconsider whether SB 260 really applies to Dunaway,” Matye said in an interview Monday. “I’m not an expert on the bill, but it should take into account the viciousness of the crime.”
Scully’s letter said that Dunaway, in his testimony at the parole hearing in June, sharply diverged from the account he gave at his last session with the board, in 2012, when he claimed he acted on impulse.
She said that Dunaway changed his story in June after the board told him at his last hearing in 2012 that he needed to be honest about his crime and show insight into what caused it. In June, Dunaway “was cunning enough to realize that the keys to his cell were his only through calculated honesty, insincere because it was motivated only by the rational recognition that the board required it of him.”
Dunaway, Scully wrote, is “not the youth that SB 260 is designed to assist.” She described him as an “honor student” who held an after-school job and had a supportive family.
“There is nothing about the inmate’s life crime which evidences impulsivity or the ‘hallmark features of youth,’ ” Scully said. “The inmate’s crime doesn’t demonstrate a single impulsive act. Instead, it shows a cold, calculated murder fueled by greed. The evidence is that of a malignant heart, not the immature impulsiveness of youth.”
The Board of Parole Hearings has 120 days to review the panel’s June 11 decision, which maps out to an Oct. 9 deadline and would give the governor approximately until Nov. 8 to act.