Tuesday, August 18, 2009
C.A. Orders New Parole Hearing for Man Convicted in Murder-for-Hire
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man who pled no contest to a murder charge based on his introducing a Long Beach woman to the contract killer who murdered her husband is entitled to a new parole hearing, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Three, in an unpublished opinion, agreed with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza that the Board of Parole Hearings showed no justification for requiring Raymond Kelsch to wait three years for a new hearing after it found him unsuitable for release in May 2007. The court ordered that a new parole hearing be held within 30 days once its decision becomes final.
Kelsch has served more than 22 years of a 16-year-to-life sentence for second degree murder in the death of Ralph Pettis. Authorities said he and the victim’s wife, Joyce Pettis, were “intimately related” and gave the shooter, Jacob Ama, a $200 down payment on a promised $1,000 to commit the 1986 murder.
At his parole hearing, Kelsch presented evidence that he was 67 years old and had a long history of medical problems, including prostate cancer that resulted in an operation while incarcerated, that he had a work history and offers of employment, that he had maintained contact with his seven children and would live with his daughter and her children in Redondo Beach, and that he had no criminal record apart from the Pettis murder.
Prison records showed that he had not committed a serious disciplinary offense in more than 17 years, and had only committed two minor offenses, neither of them recent. He was classified as a minimum security prisoner.
He continued to insist, as he had all along, that he had introduced Ama to Joyce Pettis but had no role in the murder-for-hire. He said he only intended to see Ralph Pettis beaten up because he had repeatedly beaten his wife, and acknowledged that he had done a “terrible, terrible thing” by introducing Pettis and Ama.
In finding him unsuitable for release, the board found that the crime was especially serious, that Kelsch was still unwilling to accept full responsibility for his actions, that he had failed to improve his educational level and work skills, and that he had failed to sufficiently participate in therapy and deal with his alcoholism.
The board did acknowledge that he had a good record in prison, was not considered prone to violence on the basis of his psychological evaluations, and had a relatively stable social background apart from his alcoholism. But it concluded that Kelsch was unlikely to be found suitable for release for at least three years, given the nature of the crime and his lack of participation in Alcoholics Anonymous.
In his Superior Court petition for habeas corpus, filed in pro per, he contended that he should have been granted parole because there was no nexus between his alleged deficiencies and public safety. The judge appointed counsel and ordered the board to show cause why the court should not order Kelsch’s release or at least move up the date of his next parole hearing.
In June of last year—some 13 months after the denial—Espinoza ruled that Kelsch was not entitled to release because the record contained “some evidence” that he posed an unreasonable risk to society. But there was no evidence, the judge held, to support the three-year hearing deferral given the length of time that had elapsed since the crime was committed, Kelsch’s record of nonviolence and obedience to rules while incarcerated, and his favorable psychological evaluations.
Espinoza wrote that if Kelsch “gained insight regarding his role in the offense or clarify his version of the events to the satisfaction of the next panel, it is not unreasonable to expect that he could be found suitable before the three-year postponement.”
The judge ordered the board to hold a new hearing within 60 days, but the Court of Appeal stayed the order pending its review.
Abuse of Discretion
Justice Richard Aldrich, writing for the panel, said the board abused its discretion under Penal Code Sec. 3041.5 by ordering the three-year wait. At the time of the hearing, the statute provided that an inmate rejected for parole receive a new hearing annually, except that in murder cases, the board could order a wait of up to five years if it found the inmate unlikely to earn release sooner.
In a footnote, Aldrich explained that under Marsy’s Law, or Proposition 9, as approved by voters last November, a convicted murderer who is denied parole must wait between three and 15 years for a new hearing. Since neither party briefed the issue, and because amendments to criminal statutes normally do not apply retroactively to the detriment of the defendant, the justice said, the court would assume for purposes of Kelsch’s appeal that the former language still applies.
The justice rejected the board’s finding that Kelsch’s crime was sufficiently aggravated to suggest that he remains a danger to society. “While his involvement in the crime in any respect is inexcusable, his role appears to have been largely limited to introducing the victim’s wife to the shooter,” Aldrich wrote.
With respect to Kelsch’s alcoholism, his lack of insight into his role in the offense, and plans for integration into society, the jurist said, the board showed that there were problems, but given that he had been sober for 17 years and the likelihood that the remaining issues could have been resolved within a year, the board should not have ordered the hearing delay.
Attorneys on appeal were Deputy Attorneys General Jessica Blonien and Kathleen R. Frey for the state and Melanie K. Dorian, by appointment, for Kelsch.
The case is People v. Kelsch, B209790.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company