Friday, December 5, 2014
C.A. Reverses Order to Parole Man Convicted 1985 Double Murder
Court Says Defendant’s Lack of Credible Explanation for Crimes Reflects Lack of Insight
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday overturned a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s order that would have freed a man convicted of the execution-style 1985 murders of a high school track coach and a teenager in Pasadena.
Justice Laurence Rubin, writing for Div. Eight, said Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to block Robert G. Butler’s release on parole was entitled to deference because there was at least “some evidence” to support the governor’s conclusion that Butler remains a danger to society.
Butler, a onetime nationally ranked hurdler at Azusa Pacific University, pled guilty to the murders of Robert Jones, a teacher at Pasadena’s Muir High School, and Ronald McClendon, 17, a student at the high school whom Jones had taken in after he had troubles with his family, much as he had taken in Butler earlier.
The guilty plea avoided the death penalty, and Butler was sentenced to 27 years to life for each murder, to be served concurrently. The parole board found him unsuitable for release in 2002, 2005, and 2009, but concluded in 2012 that he possessed “exceptional remorse” and was ready to be released.
The Pasadena Star-News, in reporting on the case in 2012 and 2013, said McClendon’s younger brother had written to the governor, and asked for a meeting, after prison officials apparently failed to notify him or other family members of the several parole hearings. While such notification has been mandatory since passage of Marcy’s Law in 2008, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation apparently sent notices to an address at which Gene McClendon was no longer living and from which the notices were not forwarded.
State Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, supported the family’s request to meet with the governor, the newspaper reported. Brown, in his decision, cited letters written to him by members of the McClendon family and largely adopted arguments by the family and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office that the killings were atrocious and that Butler lacked remorse.
Butler, a 22-year-old Arcadia police cadet at the time of the slayings, told the parole board that he became jealous of the relationship between McClendon and Jones. He also claimed to have learned about a week before the shootings that Jones had molested Butler’s then-13-year-old brother 10 years earlier.
Butler said he and Jones agreed to meet at Jones’ home, and that he intended to demand an apology for the molestation of his brother.
He used his house key to enter, grabbed the teacher’s gun from where Jones kept it and killed Jones first, firing two shots at close range. After seeing movement on the couch and realizing McClendon was there, he said, he shot the teenager twice.
In his decision rejecting the board’s finding that Butler was suitable for parole, Brown called the murders “senseless and truly reprehensible.” The governor also found “incomprehensible” the defendant’s claims at the 2009 and 2012 hearings that he shot the victims because he was suffering from “emotional immaturity” rooted in his mother’s abandonment of the family when he was an infant.
“Mr. Butler is not revealing his actual state of mind that led up to his brutal execution-style murders of Mr. Jones and Mr. McClendon, or he doesn’t understand the dynamics underlying his behavior,” the governor wrote. “…There are clearly deeper, unexplored or unexplained reasons that would drive a twenty-two year old man to kill two people in premeditation merely because he was getting the cold shoulder from a father figure.”
The board also failed to consider the fact that Butler’s claim that Jones had molested Butler’s brother was contradicted by the person whom Butler claimed he learned that information from, Brown said.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan, in granting the defendant’s habeas corpus petition and ordering his release, said the governor could not reverse the parole board’s decision merely because he drew conflicting conclusions from the evidence. He also said the evidence before the board clearly showed that Butler—who had earned two college degrees behind bars and whose record was blemished only by a single fight, in 1999—had insight into his crimes and did not pose a danger to the public.
But Rubin, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the governor’s reasoning satisfied the highly deferential standard under which the courts review parole decisions. Butler’s inconsistent and highly questionable explanations for his actions support the governor’s findings that at the time of the 2012 hearing, he lacked insight as to why he acted as he did, and that this lack of insight presented an unacceptable risk of current dangerousness, the justice said.
Rubin distinguished a series of cases in which findings of “lack of insight” were found insufficient to support denial of parole. “Each is distinguishable because none concerned one of the key factors underlying the Governor’s decision—the finding that the defendant’s version of what happened was not credible,” the justice said.
The case is In re Butler, 14 S.O.S. 5502.
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