Wednesday, November 3, 2010
C.A. Reinstates Parole for Man in ‘Ace of Spades’ Murder Case
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday upheld the release of a former Long Beach teenager who has spent 16 years in prison for the 1992 execution-style slaying of a high school classmate in what became known as the “Ace of Spades” case.
Div. Seven ruled that neither the circumstances of the murder nor Michael McDonald’s continued insistence that he was innocent constituted “some evidence” of current dangerousness supporting the governor’s reversal of the Board of Parole Hearings’ decision to grant parole.
A jury convicted McDonald and Kenneth German of second degree murder for the death of 16-year-old Alexander Giraldo, who was beaten, stabbed and strangled with a metal wire before his body was rolled over a cliff in San Pedro.
Police linked the death to the Ace of Spades, a multi-ethnic gang that espoused military values and grew out of the Long Beach Polytechnic High School R.O.T.C. program. They said that German, who joined the military after leaving school, orchestrated the murder from his army post after Giraldo began spending time with German’s girlfriend and cooperated with police investigating a burglary committed by the gang’s members.
German’s conviction was overturned for violation of his right to confront a witness. McDonald’s conviction, however, was upheld despite the error in light of a guitar string found at his home that was consistent with the wire used to garrote Giraldo and testimony from another gang member implicating McDonald.
McDonald was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison but maintained his innocence, contending that he had urged Giraldo to cut ties with the Ace of Spades. However, he acknowledged some responsibility, saying that the group manipulated him into brokering a phony “peace agreement” between it and Giraldo so members could get close enough to kill him.
Board Says Yes
The Board of Parole Hearings twice granted McDonald’s requests for parole, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger objected to the decision and overturned both grants. When the governor overturned a third grant in January 2009 on the ground that release would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society, McDonald—who by then was 33 years old and had a model prison record and positive psychological evaluations—sought a writ of habeas corpus.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter P. Espinoza ordered McDonald’s release, which took place in November of last year. The judge reasoned that the governor’s decision was conditioned on McDonald admitting guilt, contrary to Penal Code Sec. 5011(b). Espinoza commented that the only other basis for opposing parole—the gravity of the 1992 offense—was not probative.
The attorney general appealed, but the Court of Appeal agreed with Espinoza in an opinion by Justice Fred Woods.
Lack of Insight
The justice acknowledged that lack of insight into the nature and magnitude of an offense was a proper factor to consider when determining whether an inmate poses a threat to public safety. But he said that it was not evidence of current dangerousness unless based on other evidence in the record on which the governor was legally entitled to rely, and he noted that state law specifically prohibits requiring an admission of guilt as a condition for release on parole.
The panel vacated the governor’s decision and reinstated the parole board’s release order. Woods wrote that remand for further proceedings was not necessary because Schwarzenegger failed to meet a requirement that he state all of the reasons for his determination in the first instance in order to permit “prompt review, compliance with Constitutional mandates, and a predictable process.”
Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss and Justice Laurie D. Zelon joined Woods in his opinion.
Attorneys on appeal were Deputy Attorney General Kim Aarons for the governor and Nancy Tetreault, by appointment, for McDonald.
The case is In re McDonald, 10 S.O.S. 6190.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company