Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, October 15, 2012


Page 1


Court Orders New Sentencing for Teen Murderer


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The First District Court of Appeal Friday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a then-17-year-old convicted in the 2005 murder of a Bay Area police officer.

Div. Five rejected the argument that Andrew Moffett’s sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole was necessarily cruel and unusual under a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. But because the defendant might have received a lesser sentence had the trial judge anticipated the standard the high court would set, Moffett must be sentenced again, the court said.

Moffett was twice sentenced to life without parole for the killing of Pittsburg Police Officer Larry Lasater. According to testimony, Moffett paid a friend to steal a car for him, then drove the car to a supermarket, where he and his friend Alexander Hamilton, who was 18 at the time, committed an armed robbery.

The two fled the scene, with officers in pursuit. Moffett continued on after Hamilton stopped in some bushes. As Lasater approached, Hamilton shot him twice.

A joint jury trial in 2007 resulted in both defendants being convicted of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree robbery, and one count of car theft, with multiple firearms enhancements and a special circumstance of killing a peace officer. Hamilton was also found guilty of two counts of attempted murder for firing at t two officers who went to help Lasater, and the jury found as a special circumstance that he killed Lasater while lying in wait.

Hamilton was sentenced to death. Moffett, who was not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17, was sentenced under a statute that permits a sentence of either life without parole, or 25 years to life, for first degree murder when the defendant is between 16 and 18 years old at the time of the crime.

If a minor under 16 is tried as an adult, 25 years to life is the maximum sentence.

Moffett’s original sentence was thrown out, in an unpublished Court of Appeal opinion, after prosecutors conceded that the peace-officer special circumstance was not supported by substantial evidence that Moffett intended to kill anyone.

On remand, however, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Laurel S. Brady imposed the same sentence. After the appeal was fully briefed, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama [2012] 132 S.Ct. 2455, which struck down a statute mandating a life sentence without possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of the highest degree of murder.

In a supplemental brief, the defense argued that because Moffett was not the shooter and lacked intent to kill, Miller precludes a life-without-parole sentence.

Justice Harry Needham, writing for the Court of Appeal, disagreed but said a new hearing must be held.

Miller, he noted, struck down the Alabama law because it made “youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence” and  did not allow judges to consider young defendants’ “lack of maturity and undeveloped sense of responsibility; their vulnerability to outside pressure and negative influences; their limited control over their own environment and their inability to extricate themselves from crime-producing settings; and their greater ability to change due to their possession of a character that is not as ‘well formed’ as an adult’s.”

California’s law, however, does not mandate life-without-parole, but allows the judge to choose between that sentence and 25-years-to-life, Needham noted. But a new hearing is necessary, he said, because there is a reasonable possibility the lesser sentence would have been imposed had the judge not treated life-without-parole as the presumptively correct sentence, pursuant to statute.  

The presumption was “contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of Miller,” the justice said, as was the judge’s failure to at least consider the lack of intent to kill, and the undue consideration given trauma suffered by the robbery victims, rather than the “paramount factors” that distinguish minors from adults, as set forth by the high court.

But the lack of intent to kill does not, in and of itself, preclude a life-without-parole sentence, the justice explained, because “by finding the felony-murder special circumstances to be true, the jury necessarily determined that appellant was at least a major participant in the underlying robbery who acted with reckless indifference to human life.”

The case is People v. Moffett, 12 S.O.S. 5102.


Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company