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Tuesday, March 12, 2024


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C.A. Upholds Probation-Denial Despite Defendant’s Youth at Time of Slaying

Sentencing Comes After Factually Innocent Man Served 15 Years for Heinous Murder


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Third District Court of Appeal has held that a judge did not abuse her discretion in denying probation to a defendant who pled no contest in 2022 to a 1985 murder after actions by a non-profit led to new DNA testing which identified his DNA at the murder scene, rejecting the contention that the defendant’s youth and undeveloped brain at the time of the crime and lack of a significant criminal record compelled a different outcome.

Presiding Justice Laurie M. Earl authored the unpublished opinion affirming the judgment of El Dorado Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury who sentenced the appellant, Michael Eric Green. Justices Jonathan K. Renner and Aimee Feinberg joined in the opinion.

The murder of 55-year-old Jane Hylton took place on July 7, 1985. She was found, having bled to death on a bed, in her nightgown with a battered face, a bite mark on her shoulder, and 29 stab wounds.

The murder investigation went cold for years until 1999 when Connie Dahl confessed that she committed the murder, falsely accusing Ricky Davis of being her accomplice. Davis was the son of the woman with whom Hylton had been staying.

Dahl pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and testified against Davis, who was convicted of murder in 2005 and sentenced to 15 years to life plus one year. Dahl died in 2014.

Davis contacted the Northern California Innocence Project in 2006, and the organization obtained post-conviction DNA testing from Hylton’s nightgown and fingernails. The DNA results excluded Davis, whose conviction was overturned in 2019 and who was found factually innocent after spending 15 years in custody for the murder.

The DNA evidence that exonerated Davis implicated Green, who was 17 years old at the time of the killing. DNA recovered from Green’s garbage and a subsequent buccal swab was found to be a match to the DNA found at the murder scene.

Sentencing Hearing

After the case was transferred from Juvenile Court to adult criminal court, Green entered a plea of no contest to the second-degree murder charge. He filed an application for probation, asserting that he did not have any prior felony convictions that would disqualify him from probation and that this was an unusual case in which the interests of justice would be best served by granting him probation despite the general prohibition of probationary grants for murderers found in Penal Code §1203(e).

At a sentencing hearing, Green asserted factors he believed mitigated in favor of granting probation, but the court declined to issue a probationary sentence. Kingsbury said that in her 26 years as a judge, “this stands out as the single most brutal murder that I can imagine just based on the sheer number and quantity and type of wounds that Ms. Hylton sustained before she died.”

She also pointed to testimony that Green had said to a friend after the murder that “she just would not die” as evidence indicating that defendant “knew exactly what he did” and noted the significant negative impact the crime had on Hylton’s daughters, one of whom who accused by police of being involved in the crime at the time of Dahl’s confession.

Green asserted on appeal that Kingsbury abused her discretion in denying his application for probation.

Standard for Probation

Sec. 1203(e)(1) prohibits the granting of probation to anyone convicted of murder “except in unusual cases in which the interests of justice would best be served if the person is granted probation.”

California Rule of Court 4.413(c) sets forth the factors to be considered in evaluating whether or not a particular case is such an unusual case and includes the specific circumstances of the crime, circumstances reducing the defendant’s culpability for the offense, and any risk/needs assessments of the defendant that were performed.

Green relied upon the evaluation of two psychologists with practices in Folsom, Michael Soulier and John Hupka, who both found that he was not likely to reoffend. He also produced on expert witness testimony from Elizabeth Cauffman, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Irvine, who testified that a person’s prefrontal cortex, which controls self-regulation and impulse control, is not fully developed until a person is 25 years old.

Appellate Court’s View

Earl noted that the denial of a grant of probation generally sits with the broad discretion of the trial court absent a showing that the court exercised its discretion in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

She turned to the factors set forth in the rule to evaluate Green’s action. The jurist found that the 29 stab wounds, the bite mark, and the discovery of a large piece of flesh on the floor near the body did not favor a grant of probation.

Noting that Kingsbury characterized Green’s deeds as a “horrific crime,” Earl wrote:

“The trial court’s remarks make clear it did not find this case to be ‘substantially less serious than the circumstances typically present in other cases involving the same probation limitation….’ ”

She did find that the next two factors weighed in favor of a grant of probation. The jurist said that the second factor—considering the defendant’s age and criminal history—supported a probationary grant, and determined that the third factor, considering the risk/needs assessment, also weighed in favor of Green’s request, noting that both Soulier and Hupka characterized the risk of reoffending to be relatively low.

However, the jurist explained:

“Even accepting as established these two factors on which defendant relies, we cannot conclude the trial court abused its discretion in determining this was not an unusual case in which the interests of justice would best be served if defendant were granted probation…, particularly in light of the brutal nature of the crime and defendant’s decades-long evasion of responsibility.”

The case is People v. Green, C097287.


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