Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 3, 2023


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Identities of Persons Slain 50 Years Ago Are Shielded by Fourth District Court of Appeal

Justice Richard Huffman Accords Anonymity to Victims Notwithstanding Having Named Them in a 2021 Opinion


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The appellate courts’ mounting concern over protecting privacy rights of victims manifested itself yesterday in an opinion by Acting Presiding Justice Richard D. Huffman, of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One, who concealed the identities of two persons who were slain in 1973 and whose names have appeared in two previous decisions.

Huffman, without explanation—but in apparent deference to a non-binding guideline in the Rules of Court saying that lending anonymity to victims should be considered—referred to the victims as “Ronald W.” and “Helen R.” He did so notwithstanding that in his Aug. 5, 2021 opinion in People v. Del Rio, D078225, he named them: Ronald Watkins and Helen Ross.

They were also identified in the panel’s May 16, 1979 opinion in People v. Del Rio, 4 Crim. No. 8866, affirming the 1978 conviction of Ramon Del Rio on two counts of first degree murder.

The 2021 opinion, though not certified for publication in the Official Reports, is readily available on the Internet.

Evidentiary Hearing Ordered

In that decision, San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter C. Deddeh’s summary denial of Del Rio’s resentencing petition pursuant to Penal Code §1170.95 (now §1172.6) was reversed and the trial court was directed to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine if the petitioner is entitled to relief based on the conviction having been pursuant to a now-repudiated felony-murder theory. Deddeh did not have before him the Court of Appeal’s 1979 opinion or the transcript of the trial because the parties could not locate them.

 The Court of Appeal’s staff was able to find the opinion, and Huffman said:

“Our prior opinion indicates Del Rio was tried on a felony murder theory. The People did not argue he was the actual killer, and our opinion does not specify his exact role in these crimes. As Del Rio contends, and the Attorney General agrees, such determination should await an evidentiary hearing where facts can be determined, credibility decisions made, and the evidence weighed which cannot be done at the initial stage of evaluating this petition.”

Transcript Still Missing

On remand, the prosecution confessed it could not proceed because it still could not find the trial transcript. Deddeh said:

“I’m going to vacate the conviction, and therefore, that means Mr. Del Rio will be released.”

The judge redesignated the conviction as having been for robbery, which prompted a new appeal. In yesterday’s opinion, Huffman wrote:

“Del Rio contends the trial court violated his due process rights because he had no notice the court might take this action. He further argues the robbery conviction is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. We agree the lack of notice and substantial evidence supporting the robbery conviction warrant reversal. We therefore remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

 The case is People v. Del Rio, D080369.


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