Gov. Jerry Brown has rejected the bid for parole by a Sacramento murderer who in 1994 stabbed the owner of a Florin area auto repair shop 23 times.
The governor’s decision issued last Friday called Christopher Dunaway’s killing of Dusan Lalich “especially gruesome and disturbing.” It reversed a decision by the state’s Board of Parole Hearings in June to release Dunaway, who is now 38, based largely on the fact he was a juvenile when he killed Lalich.
Brown said neither Dunaway’s youth nor other factors such as the inmate’s stellar prison record outweighed the circumstances of the crime.
“He brutally murdered a stranger over an auto repair bill that he could not pay,” Brown wrote in his decision. “This is highly unusual behavior for a 17-year-old; Mr. Dunaway planned this murder, acted alone, and was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of his crime.”
Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, who publicly urged the governor to reverse the decision, welcomed his action.
“We felt strongly that this inmate was not suitable at this point in time,” Scully said Tuesday. “I’m very pleased that the governor looked at all the facts and circumstances.”
Dunaway’s attorney, Cheryl Montgomery, expressed disappointment with the decision, especially in light of Senate Bill 260 that was passed by the Legislature and signed by Brown in 2013.
According to a legislative counsel digest of the bill, SB 260 requires the parole board in assessing crimes committed by offenders under the age of 18 “to give great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner in accordance with relevant case law.”
“Chris Dunaway is suitable,” Montgomery said. “Senate Bill 260 was created for cases just like Dunaway’s. Even without the bill, he is a suitable candidate for parole. I find it difficult to believe this one was reversed.”
An émigré who came in 1967 from what was then Yugoslavia, Lalich, 49, was an automobile mechanic who had only recently gone into business for himself at the time of his death April 14, 1994.
Dunaway testified at trial he stabbed Lalich after being handed a bill in excess of $900 for a repair job on his 1972 Volkswagen. Dunaway claimed at the time of the killing that the original estimate for the work was $70.
A Sacramento Superior Court jury convicted Dunaway of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.
At his June 11 parole hearing, Dunaway admitted his original account of why he murdered Lalich was a lie, that Lalich told him from the beginning the job was going to cost $900.
“So Mr. Lalich was honest with you?” parole Commissioner John Peck asked at the hearing.
“Definitely, sir,” Dunaway said.
“He didn’t pull the wool over your eyes?” Peck continued. “He didn’t pull a fast one on you? The reason why I’m asking that is because that’s the kind of things you’ve said in the past.”
“And that was absolutely untrue,” Dunaway replied.
Still, Peck found and Deputy Parole Commissioner Ted Rich concurred that a variety of “youthful factors” were at play at the time Dunaway murdered Lalich and that they remained so in considering his release.
Juveniles, Peck said, “are more capable of change than are adults,” as neurological development occurs within them. Juvenile offenders “have limited control over their environment” and “lack the ability to extricate themselves from crime-producing settings,” he said. They’re “less susceptible” to deterrence, Peck found, and are less able “to appreciate risks and consequences.”
In finding Dunaway eligible for parole, Peck told him, “You showed signs of remorse, accepted full responsibility for your criminal actions. You’re at an age that reduces the probability of recidivism. You’ve engaged in institutional activities that indicate an enhanced ability to function within the law upon your release.”
Dunaway had no disciplinary write-ups during his 20 years in custody, came up with a realistic release plan, developed marketable skills while in prison and scored low on his risk assessments, Peck said.
“So based on these findings we conclude that you do not pose an unreasonable risk of danger or a threat to public safety if released,” Peck told Dunaway.
The governor acknowledged Dunaway’s age at the time of the offense and also noted the inmate’s “efforts to improve himself while incarcerated.” But Brown said those considerations “are outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate he remains unsuitable for parole.”
Along with the brutality of the crime, Brown wrote he was troubled by the added factors that Dunaway was an honor student with no prior record at the time he killed Lalich. The governor characterized as “inadequate” Dunaway’s explanations that he was poor, felt isolated from his peers, had witnessed crimes, had been bullied in high school and didn’t have a release valve for his growing anger with his life’s circumstances.
“The circumstances that led to Mr. Dunaway’s anger are common in the lives of many teens,” Brown wrote. “None of his explanations sufficiently explain why he had planned to murder a stranger over a repair bill he could not afford or the extreme level of violence he exhibited in this horrendous crime.”
Dunaway will be eligible for another parole hearing within 18 months, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Luis Patino.