Monday, March 16, 2009
C.A. Publishes Decision on Parole Denial Over Toddler’s Death
By a MetNews Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal Thursday ordered published its opinion upholding Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finding that a mother who beat her 2-year-old daughter to death after the child fed her pancake to her pet duck was still not suitable for parole 28 years after the murder.
On Feb. 18, a divided panel of Div. Six reversed San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jac A. Crawford’s grant of habeas corpus relief to Linda Lee Smith, concluding that the circumstances of the child’s death and Smith’s failure to take responsibility for her conduct supported the governor’s finding that Smith would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released.
Smith was convicted by a jury of second degree murder in 1980. The California Supreme Court subsequently reversed her conviction due to an instructional error, but she was again convicted on retrial.
According to the Supreme Court, Smith took Amy into a bedroom, spanked her, and slapped her in the face after Amy refused to sit on the sofa to ear her snack. David Foster, who lived with Smith, apparently joined Smith in the bedroom.
After Amy went into respiratory arrest, Smith and Foster took her to the hospital where Smith admitted that she had beaten her daughter and denied Foster’s involvement.
Amy died that night.
At trial, Smith claimed that Foster had beaten Amy, but she agreed to take responsibility for Amy’s injuries at the hospital because Foster was on parole.
Following retrial on remand from the Supreme Court, Smith was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to prison for a term of 15 years to life.
At subsequent parole hearings, Smith continued to deny attacking Amy but accepted responsibility for Amy’s death because she did not protect the child from Foster.
Smith also claimed that she had falsely confessed to police following her arrest—which was the basis for the Supreme Court’s statement of facts portraying her as the initiator and chief perpetrator of the attack—because she had told Foster that she would take the blame and because she was trying to protect her children.
Prior to Smith’s conviction, she had no documented history of violent behavior, and no criminal record. Since her incarceration, she has had no incidents of discipline, has earned a college degree and begun pursuing a master’s degree in divinity, and availed herself of self-help and therapy sessions.
On seven separate occasions, the Board of Parole Hearings decided that Smith should be granted parole, but each time, the governor reversed the board’s decision.
In justification of the most recent reversal, Schwarzenegger said the nature and circumstances of Amy’s death and Smith’s refusal to acknowledge her participation in the beating outweighed the factors in favor of Smith’s parole suitability.
Smith filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the San Luis Obispo Superior Court, which Crawford granted.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Kenneth R. Yegan reasoned that Smith had never taken responsibility for Amy’s death by continuing to characterize herself as a mere bystander to a beating perpetrated by Foster alone.
“The gravity of respondent’s commitment offense has continuing predictive value as to current dangerousness in view of her lack of insight into her behavior and refusal to accept responsibility for her personal participation in the beating of Amy,” Yegan wrote.
Justice Paul H. Coffee joined Yegan in his opinion, but Justice Steven Z. Perren dissented, arguing that the passage of time and evidence of Smith’s rehabilitation mitigated Smith’s offense.
Blanca F. Young and Hailyn J. Chen of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP represented Smith, while Deputy Attorney General Kim Aarons represented the state.
The case is In re Smith, B207324.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company