Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Sixth District Upholds Parole Release For 1984 Murder
Panel Says Schwarzenegger’s Reasons for Denial Did Not Comport With Evidence
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Sixth District Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a grant of parole for an inmate who was convicted of the 1984 slaying of a San Jose man who had beaten up his brother.
Javier Rodriguez was entitled to habeas relief, the panel said, because then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s determination that Rodriguez continued to pose a threat to society was not supported by “some evidence.”
According to a law enforcement report, Rodriguez and his two brothers encountered Antonio Padilla at the entrance of a San Jose convenience store, where Padilla was urinating on the door. One of Rodriguez’s brothers remarked that his was “not proper behavior,” as they entered the store.
Padilla then followed the brothers into the store and attacked Elias Rodriguez, hitting and kicking him. The police were summoned, but Padilla had fled by the time officers arrived at the store.
The brothers left the store and went to the home shared by Elias and Manuel Rodriguez, where Manuel Rodriguez retrieved a rifle. They then returned to the convenience store where they saw Padilla talking to three young women.
Padilla walked to the car occupied by the Rodriquez brothers, and when he looked in the window, Manuel Rodriguez shot him four times. Padilla later died of his wounds at a near-by hospital.
Later, Manuel Rodriguez told police that he did not approach the store with the intention of shooting Padilla, but if Padilla came at him he was prepared to shoot him. During a subsequent conversation between Manuel and Javier Rodriguez, which was overheard by police officers, Manuel Rodriguez stated that he did not want to kill Padilla.
Javier Rodriguez was convicted of first degree murder in 1985 and was sentenced to a term of 25 years to life. After having served 23 years, the prison parole board found Rodriguez suitable for release.
It based its findings on Rodriguez’s participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, lack of a significant criminal history of violent crime, realistic parole plans, positive institutional behavior, expression of remorse, and “maturation, growth and greater understanding” of the nature and magnitude of his offense.
In April 2009, Schwarzenegger reversed the board’s decision on the basis that the commitment offense was “especially heinous because the crime partners fired a rifle repeatedly in a public area, killing the victim and placing others at risk of death or serious injury.” He also cited a 2008 mental health evaluation that found that Rodriguez lacked insight into his crime and Rodriguez’s “limited involvement in self-help and therapy over the years” as reasons for his determination of current dangerousness.
Rodriguez then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus which Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Socrates Manoukian granted, finding insufficient evidentiary support for the governor’s decision.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Franklin D. Elia agreed with Manoukian’s conclusion. He said the record did not support a finding the commitment offense was especially heinous.
Although there was evidence the victim was talking to three women right before he was murdered, the justice noted “nothing in the record supports the Governor’s assertion that these three women were placed at risk of death or serious injury.”
Elia acknowledged that “there is a modicum of evidence that Rodriguez lacks insight into why he allowed his brother to bring a gun into the car before returning to the convenience store” based on psychological evaluations, but reasoned a lack of understanding concerning this issue is not rationally indicative of current dangerousness.
“The record does not show that Rodriguez has ever denied he was guilty of murder or that his actions as the driver of the car were any less culpable than his brother Manual,” Elia said, and so the “fact that he may not fully understand why he allowed his brother to bring a rifle into the car is not a material deficiency in Rodriguez’s understanding and acceptance of responsibility for the crime.”
Elia added that there is “nothing in the governing regulations that require any minimum quantity of rehabilitative programming” for an inmate to have gained sufficient insight to his behavior and that “the significance of rehabilitative programming comes into play only when after years of such programming a prisoner is unable to gain insight into his antisocial behavior despite those years of therapy and rehabilitative programming.”
The justice also said that Schwarzenegger failed to explain any connection between his findings and his conclusion that Rodriguez would present an unreasonable risk of danger to the public if released, and absent the establishment of such a connection, habeas relief was warranted.
Presiding Justice Conrad L. Rushing and Justice Eugene M. Premo joined Elia in the opinion.
The case is In re Rodriguez, 11 S.O.S. 1193.
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