Friday, January 4, 2008
Ninth Circuit Overturns Denial of Parole to Vagos Gang Member
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Two denials of parole to a former motorcycle club member by former Gov. Gray Davis violated due process, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday, saying Davis’ reasons were inadequate or lacked evidentiary support.
The court, in an opinion by Judge Ronald Gould, joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and visiting Judge Daniel M. Friedman, ordered that a writ of habeas corpus be granted to Ronald Hayward, a former member of the Vagos club who has served 27 years for killing a man who allegedly attempted to rape the woman whom he later married.
Hayward was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for second degree murder, and was turned down nine times by the parole board before he was found suitable for release in 2002. Davis, however, exercised his state constitutional prerogative of vetoing the board’s decision, and did so again when the board found Hayward suitable for a second time a year later.
In seeking habeas corpus relief, first in state court and then in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Hayward cited testimony that he had resigned from the Vagos after his arrest, that he had a friend of many years’ standing that he could live with in Monrovia or family that he could live with in Idaho if his supervision could be transferred there, and that he had gone through a twelve-step program and had a good prison record.
District Judge Gary Feess ruled that the state courts were not unreasonable in denying relief, since all that California requires is that there be “some evidence” supporting the governor’s decision, but Gould disagreed.
“After carefully reviewing the record, we conclude that the Los Angeles County Superior Court unreasonably applied the some evidence standard when it concluded that the Governor’s reversal of the Board’s grant of parole to Hayward was justified. We conclude that, viewed fairly and in its context, no evidence in the record supports a determination that Hayward’s release would unreasonably endanger public safety.”
The appellate jurist said there was no evidence to support the governor’s findings that Hayward refused to accept responsibility for his crime, that he had an extensive record of alcohol and heroin abuse, that he had committed between 75 and 120 serious crimes for which he was never arrested, and that prison psychologists “remain convinced that he poses a danger to society.”
In fact, Gould said, the undisputed evidence was that Hayward admitted his guilt and had accepted responsibility for the crime since his 1993 parole hearing; had quit drinking in 1974; had not used heroin except for a brief experiment during prison; had been in counseling for many years; and was found by his most recent psychological evaluator to present an “adequately contained” and low-to-moderate risk of danger to society.
While it was true that Hayward had committed other serious crimes before the murder and that the murder was a grave offense, Gould explained, Ninth Circuit precedent holds that continued denial of parole based “on an unchanging factor” such as the inmate’s conduct prior to being imprisoned may amount to a due process violation.
Such is the case with Hayward, the judge explained, because his past crimes are now more than 30 years old; his “social history is, as a whole, quite stable,” as shown by his having quit gang involvement and maintained close contact with his family; and having undergone “rehabilitation by education and conduct while imprisoned” and twice been recommended for release by the board.
The case is Hayward v. Marshall, 06-55392.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company