Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday commuted the sentences of nine California prisoners who were convicted over the past three decades primarily of murder or attempted murder.
Seven are now eligible to appear before the state Board of Parole Hearings, which will determine whether they are ready to be released.
The Democratic governor has now issued 18 commutations since returning to office in 2011, including seven in April, compared to one in his first two terms. That is far more than his immediate four predecessors, two of whom issued no commutations, but in line with historic figures for other governors. His father, former Gov. Pat Brown, issued 55.
Inmates can apply to have their sentence reduced or eliminated and must demonstrate exemplary behavior since their conviction. The latest recipients of commutations are:
▪ Florence Anderson, who was sentenced in 2002 in Humboldt County Superior Court to 25 years to life for first degree murder, plus 2 years for second-degree burglary. Anderson helped rob a man whom her pimp stabbed and killed, believing he had large sums of cash on him. Her application for clemency, in which Anderson described the “severe physical abuse” she suffered at the hands of her pimp and her battle with addiction, was supported by the former district attorney of Humboldt County and several correctional officers. Brown wrote that he “cannot overlook the violent abuse she endured and her limited role in this crime.” He also noted that Anderson “has maintained her sobriety and helps fellow inmates who also struggle with addiction.”
▪ Christopher Edwin Asay, who was sentenced in 1989 in San Bernardino County Superior Court to life without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, plus a two-year firearm enhancement. Asay shot and stole $16,000 from a man employed by the armored car service that picked up money from the convenience store where Asay worked. In his nearly three decades of incarceration, Asay has never been disciplined for misconduct, and he earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s of business administration from California Coast University. “I have learned and I have grown as a person, so if given the privilege of a second chance, I can and will be a productive member of society,” he wrote in his application for clemency. His request was supported by Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, where Asay has been housed since 2001.
▪ Hamid Bashir, who was sentenced in 2002 in Los Angeles County Superior Court to 15 years to life for second-degree murder, plus a 10-year firearm enhancement. At age 18, Bashir shot a security guard in the hand during a robbery that left the store manager dead. Since entering prison, Bashir earned his GED and has completed some vocational training. He is currently enrolled in a seminary program, counsels at-risk youth and plans to participate in an urban ministry program if released. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has offered Bashir a job, a scholarship to further his education and housing, writing in his clemency application that he would guarantee Bashir’s “good behavior and that he will be a positive asset to society.”
▪ Paul Carrillo, who was sentenced in 1990 in Riverside County Superior Court to life without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. Heavily intoxicated, Carrillo and a friend killed a taxi driver by striking him in the head multiple times with a 2x4 with nails in it. While in prison, Carrillo has become a Native American spiritual leader for other inmates and was selected to speak at the first California prison TEDx conference in 2014. He was recommended for commutation by his warden at the Ironwood State Prison, who wrote that Carrillo “inspires those who think there is nothing to gain by doing the right thing” and “gives inmates hope.”
▪ Travielle Craig, who was sentenced in 1993 in Los Angeles County Superior Court to life without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, plus a one-year deadly weapon enhancement, three years for assault with a deadly weapon and a three-year great bodily injury enhancement. On the night of the Rodney King verdict, Craig asked two men for money to support King’s cause and attacked them with a piece of wood when they didn’t have enough; one of them later died from the injuries. In his application for clemency, Craig wrote that he was young and immature at the time of his crime, unable to handle the murder of his father and death of his grandmother. Since then, he has earned his GED and multiple degrees from Bible college, regularly preaches at church services, mentors at-risk youth and contributed to a literary journal. An associate warden commended his “extraordinary conduct” in caring for rescue dogs displaced by a fire. “I have matured now and feel that I can be an asset to whatever community I am in,” Craig wrote.
▪ DeAngelo McVay, who was sentenced in 1999 in Los Angeles County Superior Court to life without the possibility of parole for kidnapping for ransom, plus a one-year enhancement for use of a firearm. Along with two friends, McVay forced another man into a car and drove him to a garage, where they beat him over a drug dispute. McVay’s warden recommended him for commutation, calling him a “poster child for rehabilitation” and noting, “In my career, I have never seen an inmate with more positive words from CDCR staff.” McVay volunteers as a rescue dog trainer, was certified as a Biblical counselor and is chairman of the inmate Men’s Advisory Council at his facility. Brown noted his “remarkable transformation in prison.”
▪ John Paul Rodriguez, who was sentenced in 2010 in Los Angeles County Superior Court to nine years for attempted murder, plus a 10-year firearm enhancement and a three-year great bodily injury enhancement. At age 17, Rodriguez shot at another man outside of a nightclub, hitting him once in the back, though he survived his injuries. Rodriguez earned his GED and three associate degrees in prison and has secured a scholarship to continue his education after his release. He also volunteers in a literacy and youth offender mentorship programs. In his application for clemency, a staff member praised Rodriguez for “selfless commitment and dedication in ensuring those around him live a healthy lifestyle.” Rodriguez said he is “ready to help those I have hurt in my past by aiding people with internal struggles and helping the community by reducing recidivism.”
▪ Mary Elizabeth Stroder, who was sentenced in 1995 in Kern County Superior Court to life without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder, plus a three-year firearm enhancement. Stroder and her boyfriend robbed a woman by taking her to several ATMs to withdraw money on their behalf, then drove her to an isolated area and shot her. Brown noted a 2009 psychological evaluation that described Stroder’s “lifetime experience of neglect, devaluation and abuse,” including possible sexual abuse by her parents. In addition to her involvement in self-help and vocational training programs, nearly 7,000 individuals signed a petition calling for a “chance of freedom” for Stroder, whom a legal advocate described as “one of the most self-aware, respectful, accountable and thoughtful whom I have met.”
▪ Raul Zarate, who was sentenced in 2010 in Los Angeles County Superior Court to nine years for attempted murder, plus a four-year firearm enhancement and three-year great bodily injury enhancement. Zarate was involved in a drunken argument outside of a house party at age 17 and shot two individuals, though both survived their injuries. While in prison, Zarate earned his high school diploma and four associate degrees, and was certified a Braille transcriber by the Library of Congress. He has lined up housing, therapy, life skills programs, scholarships to continue his education and a full-time job once he leaves prison. Brown wrote that Zarate has “done exactly what we ask of inmates – fully commit to rehabilitation and prepare for success upon release.”