Thursday, November 18, 2010
Court of Appeal Orders New Hearing for Septuagenarian Wife-Killer
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday ordered a new hearing for a convicted murderer whose bid for release has now been the subject of four appellate opinions.
Div. One, in a 2-1 decision, ordered the Board of Parole Hearings to reconsider its most recent decision not to release Richard Shaputis. While the California Supreme Court unanimously upheld Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s denial of parole on the basis of evidence presented at his 2006 release hearing, Justice Alex McDonald wrote yesterday in an unpublished opinion, the evidence presented at a hearing held last year failed to establish that Shaputis is a current danger to socieity.
Shaputis, convicted of second-degree murder in 1987 after shooting his wife and sentenced to 17 years to life in prison, is now 74, has served 23 years, and has been in ill health for several years. Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote, in In re Shaputis (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1241, that his history of domestic violence prior to the murder—he beat his wife two or three times a year during a 23-year marriage and had shot at her and threatened her with a knife about 18 months before he killed her—and his failure to take responsibility afterward supported the governor’s conclusion that he remained a danger to society.
The board found him unsuitable for parole in 1997, 2002, and 2004. In 2006, the Court of Appeal said the evidence of his exemplary record in prison and efforts at rehabilitation was not rebutted at the last hearing, and ordered the board to grant release unless it found that evidence not considered at the hearing supported a contrary conclusion.
The board subsequently concluded that there was no new evidence against Shaputis and that it was thus required by the court decision to find him suitable for parole. The governor, however, exercised his constitutional power to veto the release.
The Court of Appeal, however, in an unpublished 2007 opinion, said the governor’s decision lacked the requisite evidentiary support, but that ruling was reversed by the Supreme Court the following year.
McDonald wrote yesterday that it was clear from the record of the hearing held in August of last year that Shaputis’ prison record remained “impeccable” and that all of his mental health evaluations supported the conclusion that he was no longer dangerous.
The board, McDonald wrote, apparently relied exclusively on findings that the inmate still lacked insight into his prior criminal conduct and did not accept responsibility for the crime. Those findings, the justice wrote, were not supported by the evidence presented at last year’s hearing.
“Shaputis’s written statement clearly expressed his remorse, both for his crime and for his misconduct toward other family members, and squarely acknowledged that (while his alcohol consumption played some role in the crime), “I blame myself and low morality, not alcohol, for my crime and former misconduct.” Additionally, his written statement provided affirmative evidence that he had grown to understand how his underlying character flaws, exacerbated by his alcohol abuse, had produced his criminal conduct.”
The combination of that statement and the “unequivocal” conclusion of the psychologist who examined him prior to the hearing was sufficient to establish his suitability for release, the jurist said, and was not rebutted by “stale” reports of earlier evaluations, McDonald said.
Justice Richard McIntyre concurred, but Justice Gilbert Nares dissented.
The board, Nares argued, was entitled to conclude that the recent psychological evaluation was flawed, in that the doctor accepted the inmate’s claim that he was drunk and did not intend to kill his wife, contrary to the evidence that she was shot in the neck at close range, and that the gun had a “transfer bar” that made an accidental discharge impossible.
“The majority simply disagrees with the weight the Board gave to Dr. Stark’s report and its assessment of the evidence concerning Shaputis’s suitability for parole. However, that is not our function in reviewing this writ petition.”
The case is In re Shaputis, D056825.
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