Monday, July 11, 2005
Court Overturns Order for Release of Convicted Murderer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Then-Gov. Gray Davis did not abuse his discretion when he denied parole to a convicted murderer in 2002, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
In a June 10 decision, certified Friday for publication, the court overturned a Santa Clara Superior Court judge’s order that would have required the release of Michael Lowe.
The Board of Prison Terms found Lowe suitable for parole after he had served 17 years of a 15-year-to-life term for the second-degree murder of Michael Sanchez. But Davis rejected the board’s decision after reviewing the record pursuant to Proposition 89, which allows the governor to reverse a board decision granting or denying parole.
The governor found that Lowe, who had met the then-15-year-old Sanchez at a meeting of gay Catholics and become his legal guardian, had become involved in a “tumultuous” sexual relationship with the young man. Lowe, the governor recounted, admitting shooting a sleeping Sanchez five times, then placed the corpse on the bed for several weeks before placing it in a plywood box that Lowe kept in the Cupertino condominium where he and Sanchez lived.
The police were called after a prospective purchaser of the condominium smelled an odor emanating from the box, about three months after the shooting. Lowe, who was not at home while the realtor was showing the unit, fled when he saw police cars in front of the building but surrendered weeks later.
The “cold-blooded” nature of the crime, as well as the “shocking, ghoulish depravity” and total lack of remorse demonstrated afterwards, Davis said, suggested that Lowe was unsuitable for parole.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Hastings, in granting Lowe’s habeas corpus petition, said the governor had violated the terms of Lowe’s plea bargain by finding premeditation, contrary to the prosecution’s agreement to allow the defendant to plead guilty to second degree murder.
The judge also found that in the context of a plea bargain, it was a due process violation, as well as an impairment of the obligation of contracts, to apply Proposition 89 to a defendant whose crime was committed before that measure—a legislative amendment to the California Constitution—was adopted.
Hastings distinguished In re Rosenkrantz, in which the Supreme Court held that Proposition 89 could be applied retroactively without violated the Ex Post Facto clauses of the state and federal constitutions. That case did not involve a plea bargain.
But Justice Nathan Mihara, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the governor acted within his authority, citing recent cases saying the discretion granted by Proposition 89 is broad. The justice also rejected Hastings’ constitutional analysis, saying Lowe received the substantive benefit of his plea bargain.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company