Tuesday, November 4, 2014
C.A. Upholds Life-Without-Parole Sentence for Teenager
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fifth District Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed the life-without-parole sentence imposed on a teenager for the murders of an elderly couple who were killed during a home invasion robbery in Bakersfield in 2008.
The ruling is significant because it appears to be the first published opinion upholding a life-without-parole sentence based on consideration of the factors set forth in Miller v. Alabama  132 S.Ct. 2455.
That ruling struck down a statute mandating a life sentence without possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of the highest degree of murder.
In yesterday’s decision, the Court of Appeal said Kern Superior Court Judge John Somers properly weighed aggravating and mitigating factors after the appellate panel sent the case of Luis William Palafox back to the trial court for reconsideration of the LWOP sentence in light of Miller.
Palafox, 16 when Joseph and Dorothy Parrott were killed, and Kyle Hoffman, who was 17, were tried as adults, in a joint trial before separate juries, after the couple were stabbed and bludgeoned to death. Hoffman confessed, saying he was outside the house when Palafox went in to steal money for drugs, but that Palafox returned and told him he had killed the victims.
When the case was sent back for resentencing, the defense presented a lengthy social history of Palafox, prepared by a licensed clinical social worker, and a psychological evaluation. It presented a portrait of a troubled young man, but one who had previously avoided trouble with the law.
Palafox, according to the report, was born to a teenage mother and a disinterested father, following what the father said was an unplanned and unwed pregnancy, and was exposed to considerable domestic violence before his parents ended their relationship. His mother later moved around frequently with her gang-member boyfriend—with whom she had four other children—and drank and smoked marijuana heavily.
In concluding that life imprisonment without parole was still the appropriate penalty, Somers cited the combination of factors explained in Miller—including 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.”
The judge concluded that while there might be a possibility of rehabilitation in Palafox’s case, the sheer brutality of the murders weighed heavily in favor of the maximum sentence.
Justice Jennifer Detjen, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge’s analysis was reasonable.
“In this case of first impression, we conclude the sentence is constitutional despite the trial court’s inability to exclude the possibility of rehabilitation,” she wrote. “No particular factor, relevant to the decision whether to impose LWOP on a juvenile who has committed murder, predominates under the law. Hence, as long as a trial court gives due consideration to an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics, as required by Miller…it may, in exercising its discretion under Penal Code section 190.5, subdivision (b), give such weight to the relevant factors as it reasonably determines is appropriate under all the circumstances of the case.”
The case is People v. Palafox, F067413.
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