LOS ANGELES, CA – A newly elected district attorney ordered his prosecutors to no longer attend California Board of Parole hearings to advocate for victims and object to the release of the criminals who harmed them.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a progressive who campaigned on a promise to reduce the inmate population, issued the directive to his staff on Dec. 7, his first day in office.
Under the new policy, Los Angeles County prosecutors will no longer attend parole hearings and will support in writing the grant of parole for a person who has already served their mandatory minimum sentence, according to a memo obtained by NBC News.
Following an NBC News report on Manson follower Bruce Davis, the Los Angeles County sheriff said he’ll authorize staff members to attend parole hearings to fill a void created by a new policy imposed by the district attorney. By @anblanx https://t.co/2ZWnCPq4Qy— NBC Investigations (@NBCInvestigates) February 3, 2021
In response to the new policy, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced on Wednesday that a member of his department would be attending parole hearings going forward after Gascón failed to object to the release of Charles Manson “family” member and convicted killer Bruce Davis.
Davis, 78, was sentenced to life in prison in 1972 for the killings of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea.
The @LASheriffDept move follows @NBCInvestigates story, examining case of Charles Manson Family member Bruce Davis and the decision by LA County DA’s Office to no longer send prosecutors to parole hearings to argue on behalf of victims / The State.— Andrew Blankstein (@anblanx) February 3, 2021
In a letter to Gascón, Villanueva said he strongly believed that authorizing staff members to attend the parole hearings is “the right thing to do.” He further noted:
“As you know, leaders will agree to disagree at times; however, we must continually work together to provide the best public safety possible and advocate for the rights of victims.”
I stand with victims! https://t.co/06HMpgqUXl— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) February 3, 2021
During a Facebook Live address, Villanueva said:
“The DA has elected not to appear in these and that is his prerogative for his agency.
“However we are not going to abandon victims of crime. We are going to stand with them shoulder to shoulder and any help they need in this process, we will be there to represent them.”
1/3 The protection of victims’ rights must be the priority for both @LASDHQ as well the Districts Attorneys Office. Our Department stands with victims of crime. I look forward to working with other @CountyofLA leaders and will continue to be an advocate for public safety. pic.twitter.com/OdgEXp2aLS— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) February 5, 2021
NBC News reported that relatives of murder victims were stunned by Gascón’s decision, including Kay Martley, 81, whose cousin, Hinman, was tortured and murdered by Davis and other Manson followers on July 27, 1969.
On Jan. 22, Martley had joined a California Board of Parole Hearings video conference to consider parole for Davis earlier this month, but was shocked to learn she would be making the case on behalf of her dead cousin with no support from the district attorney’s office. She said:
“I don’t think it’s fair that the prisoner has legal representation at the hearing and I do not.”
In the past, whenever Manson or one of his convicted followers would come up for parole over the last 40 years, a Los Angeles County prosecutor joined victims’ family members at a California state prison to argue against their release.
Martley told NBC News:
“I had no one to speak for me. I felt like no one cares about the victim’s families anymore. We are totally forgotten.”
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Gascón’s directive prevents Los Angeles County prosecutors from opposing parole for inmates sentenced to life who have already served their mandatory minimum period of incarceration.
40 years ago I walked my first beat as a young police officer.— George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) December 7, 2020
Today, I was sworn in as the 43rd District Attorney of Los Angeles. pic.twitter.com/6pkjGgleQY
While Gascón appears to be keeping his campaign promise to reduce the prison population, it raises questions of how his decision is affecting the victims and their rights before, during and after criminal trials.
Debra Tate, whose actress sister, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Manson followers, was also shocked by Gascón’s directive:
“My jaw drops. I’m outraged.”
Tate told NBC News that she had joined the parole board hearing for Davis earlier this month and was stunned by the absence of a prosecutor:
“At the most horrible moment, when you have to relive the gruesome details of the loss of your loved ones, you are now also supposed to perform the job and act as the DA would.”
NBC News noted that although this is the sixth time the state board recommended parole for Davis, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to deny the convicted murderer’s early release.
The parole board’s latest recommendation for Davis’ release, referred to in official documents as “parole suitability,” will be finalized over the next few months, according to NBC News.
Corrections officials will conduct a legal review, and then Newsom has one month to either reject the decision, take no action or make modifications to the decision by adding a parole condition or changing the date of release.
As a result of George Floyd’s death last year, politicians have increasingly focused on issues of racial inequities within the criminal justice system. The progressive push has included some district attorneys, such as Gascón, deliberately withdrawing from advocating for crime victims during parole board hearings.
Gascón said should state prison officials determine that a person represents a “high” risk for recidivism, a prosecutor “may, in their letter, take a neutral position on the grant of parole,” according to NBC News.
L.A. DA Gascon Refused to Oppose Parole for Manson Family Killer Bruce Davis https://t.co/pkkQnZ5NZd— RedState (@RedState) February 2, 2021
Gascón’s special adviser, Alex Bastian, suggested that state parole officials, not prosecutors, are best equipped to make judgements about whether or not to release inmates:
“The prosecutors’ role ends at sentencing. There’s been a tug of war between public safety versus equity. The DA believes you can do both.”
Yet, there is a perception that victims and their families are being abandoned by a district attorney who appears more focused on easing restraints on criminals.
With prosecutors banned from appearing before a parole board to advocate on behalf of victims, convicted criminals appear to benefit greatly.
Prior to Gascón’s directive, prosecutors would skillfully advocate for the victims before the parole board and explain the impact crimes have had on them.
Now, victims will no longer have an advocate to help them during a very stressful event. If victims cannot successfully argue to deny early release to a convict, then it becomes much easier for a progressive-minded state board to release criminals sooner.
Welcome Crime Survivors Council Member, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.— Patricia Wenskunas (@pwenskunas) February 4, 2021
“As Sheriff of Los Angeles County, I am honored to be a part of the Crime Survivors Council. My commitment to victims of crime is one of the most imp https://t.co/QJWNuOkKAh pic.twitter.com/QboUhMuM02
Kay told NBC News she recalled a previous time when there was a probation report presented at an initial parole hearing for Manson family participant Patricia Krenwinkel.
According to Kay, the two-page report downplayed Krenwinkel’s role in the brutal murder of Tate, her unborn baby and four other victims: Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent and Abigail Folger.
Kay recalled the gruesome details of that case, where four victims had been stabbed a total of 102 times and the fifth was shot to death. A transcript showed she told the parole board at that time:
“I think we owe it to society not to turn loose a member of the Manson family, such as Patricia Krenwinkel, who has participated in seven of the most vicious, brutal murders in the history of American crime.
“I think it would be a great deterrent value to show the public that not everybody who commits murder can automatically get out on parole.”
Retired Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay said he believes that Gascón went too far by issuing the directive:
“Basically, he has taken the people’s lawyer out of the equation and left it in the hands of the defense.”
Yet, when Bastian was asked specific questions about the Davis case, NBC News reported he said the district attorney’s office is focused on providing “trauma-informed services” when a “heart-wrenching crime occurs.”
“In any case where an individual has spent nearly half a century in prison, the parole board has likely reviewed generations of behavioral health evaluations and has determined that a nearly 80-year-old elderly man is not the same person he was when he was 30 years of age.
“The people’s interest in continued incarceration, at extraordinary cost to taxpayers, is likely to have informed their release decision.”
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