Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Court: Man Who Killed for Drug Money Must Be Released on Parole
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man who killed a drunk sleeping on a park bench in order to steal money for drugs has been ordered released by this district’s Court of Appeal.
Div. Four ruled Monday that there was no evidence to support Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s conclusion that Woodrow Lockett remains a danger to society after 21 years in prison.
Lockett was a 24-year-old transient in December 1988 when he and another transient decided to rob the victim. Lockett later explained that he stabbed the victim in the neck during a struggle, but later felt “ashamed and sorry” and turned himself in 13 hours after the crime and confessed.
He waived trial by jury and was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison, including a deadly weapon enhancement.
Following a 2006 hearing, the Board of Parole Hearings found Lockett suitable for parole, concluding that his lack of a juvenile record for assault, participation in rehabilitative programs, lack of a significant disciplinary record, completion of a GED and vocational training, and obtaining of ordination as a minister of the Church of God made him a likely success on parole.
Schwarzenegger reversed that decision in April 2007, citing Lockett’s “exceptionally callous disregard” for the victim’s life, as reflected by the autopsy report showing that the fatal wound was two inches deep. The governor also said the inmate lacked insight into his crime, as reflected by, among other things, his statement to the board that the victim “got accidentally” stuck with the knife while “moving his head around” as they struggled.
Lockett challenged the reversal by petition for writ of habeas corpus, which was denied by the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal, and the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, noted that the governing standard for judicial review of parole denials had changed under its decision in In re Lawrence (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1181, and said Lockett could file a new petition seeking release based on that ruling.
In September of last year, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza granted Lockett’s new petition, reasoning that while the crime was especially heinous, that fact alone did not establish that the inmate’s release would constitute an unreasonable risk to public safety.
As for the finding that Lockett lacked insight into the crime, the judge said Lockett’s version of the facts “is not physically impossible” and that his expressions of remorse and efforts to make amends contradicted the governor’s conclusion.
Justice Thomas Willhite, in an unpublished opinion Monday for the Court of Appeal, agreed with Espinoza.
The evidence, Willhite explained, supported the governor’s conclusions that the murder was heinous and that the depth of the wound was inconsistent with Lockett’s explanation of the stabbing as accidental. “But we disagree that, without more in this case, these factors translate into some evidence to support a finding that Lockett remains an unreasonable danger.”
As a matter of law, the jurist explained, there is a presumption favoring parole once an inmate has served the minimum term, which can only be overcome by evidence showing an unreasonable risk to the public, based on the factors set forth in the parole regulations.
According to those regulations, a finding of unreasonable risk must be based on one or more of six factors—the manner in which the underlying crime was committed, a previous record of violence, an unstable social history, the prior commission of a “sadistic” sexual assault, a lengthy history of severe mental problems, or serious misconduct while in prison.
On the other hand, the regulations say, the inmate is entitled to have certain factors weighed in his or her favor in assessing the risk that he or she would pose if released. Those factors are the lack of a record of juvenile violence; the existence of a stable social history; remorse for the crime; the existence of significant stress, or of battered woman syndrome, that can account for the commission of the crime; the lack of a significant prior criminal record; advanced age; realistic plans for release; and participation in institutional activities.
Based on Lawrence and the suitability factors, the justice said, “we conclude that some evidence does not support the Governor’s decision.”
Nor, Willhite said, was there any reason to send the case back to the governor for reconsideration, since there was nothing in the record that would support a new denial.
Attorneys on appeal were Deputy Attorneys General Heather Bushman, Jennifer L. Heinisch, and Julie A. Malone for the state and Los Angeles attorney Nancy L. Tetreault, by appointment, for the defendant.
The case is In re Lockett, B212496.
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