Wednesday, January 7, 2009
C.A. Orders Parole for Man Who Murdered Wife in Dispute
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal has again ruled that a Placer County man who murdered his wife with a shotgun during a heated domestic argument and then dumped her body in a rural area must be released on parole.
Directing the Board of Parole Hearings to find Ronald Singler suitable for parole, the court held in an opinion ordered published yesterday that the circumstances of the 1982 crime were not so “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel” to undermine evidence that Singler’s rehabilitative efforts demonstrated he no longer poses a danger to society.
The court initially denied Singler’s petition for writ of habeas corpus in 2007 in deference to the parole board, but reversed course in March of last year after the California Supreme Court ordered reconsideration.
The latest ruling comes after the Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to reconsider the case for a second time in October, in light of the high court’s decisions in In re Lawrence (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1181 and In re Shaputis (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1241. The high court held in those cases that the board must cite “some evidence” that a prisoner is currently dangerous, not merely some evidence that the underlying offense was particularly egregious or that some other unsuitability factor applies.
Singler fatally shot his wife, Gayle Singler, in the living room of their home while their children were sleeping after his wife, with whom he had been having marital difficulties for months, told him that she was having an affair, wanted to divorce him and take their children, and had emptied their bank account.
He subsequently drove the children to a friend’s house before returning home for his wife’s body and dumping it in a rural area.
Singler initially denied any wrongdoing in connection with his wife’s disappearance, but within 24 hours of the murder confessed and led authorities to his wife’s body.
He was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to an indeterminate term of 15 years to life in state prison.
While imprisoned, Singler participated anger management and impulse control programs, and become active in Buddhism, and he was described as a model prisoner with an “exemplary disciplinary history.” Various psychological evaluations indicated that Singler was “sincerely” ashamed of his actions and remorseful for the pain he caused, and he reconciled with his children.
However, after the board found Singler suitable for parole in 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed the decision, finding that Singler’s “atrocious crime…with a level of premeditation” while his “two small children slept nearby” demonstrated that Singler “would pose an unreasonable public safety risk,” despite his daughter’s multiple letters in support of parole, and the lack of an objection by his late wife’s mother.
When Singler again sought parole the following year, he told the board he did not remember the exact point at which he decided to kill his late wife because he was in a “fit of rage.” Similarly, when asked why he dumped her body “like trash,” Singler stated he was in shock and not thinking rationally, and maintained that he had not intended for animals to dispose of the body as the board suggested.
But the board, citing concerns that Singler lacked insight into why he killed his wife and his “blatant disregard of [the victim’s] remains, denied parole after concluding that Singler had failed to demonstrate that he would not react in a violent manner if future events caused him to become angry.
The Court of Appeal, in opinions by Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland, initially denied Singler’s habeas corpus petition, but after the Supreme Court ordered reconsideration, saying the court had been overly deferential to the board, Scotland concluded that the denial of parole was unsupported by the evidence, a conclusion he reiterated after the Supreme Court again ordered reconsideration in light of Lawrence and Shaputis.
Scotland rejected the board’s determination that Singler failed to show insight into why he killed his wife, writing:
“To the contrary, the evidence disclosed that for many years, Singler has understood the reasons why he killed his wife, has recognized that he significantly overreacted to his angry impulses in doing so, and has learned to harness in socially acceptable ways the anger arising from life’s inevitable frustrations.”
The justice similarly swept aside the board’s conclusion that the nature of the crime demonstrated that Singler posed an unreasonable threat to society.
“[A]ll the psychological evaluations and uncontradicted evidence disclosed that Singler, as he claims, committed the offense while experiencing an unusual amount of stress over a long period of time, which is a factor indicating suitability for parole…,” Scotland wrote. “He became enraged upon learning that his wife was having an affair and that she planned to divorce him, take their children, and leave him destitute.
“This was an unacceptable reason to kill another human being—as are virtually all motives except for defense of self or others. However, viewed in context, it was not trivial, inexplicable, or dispassionate; and it did not reflect an exceptionally callous disregard for human suffering so as to undermine the uncontested evidence that his rehabilitative efforts showed he no longer would be a danger to public safety if released on parole.”
Justices George Nicholson and Vance W. Raye joined Scotland in his opinion.
The case is In re Singler, 09 S.O.S. 116.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company