OPINION: California’s Jerry Brown Leaves A Legacy Of Going Easy On Convicted Killers

Lloyd Billingsley | Policy Fellow, Independent Institute

Jerry Brown served as California’s 34th governor from 1975-1983, and as its 39th governor from 2011 to the present, for a total of four terms. Brown is now 80, and he’s going out the same way he came in: with tolerance for violent criminals and indifference toward their victims.

Brown’s father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, was governor in 1960, when California executed Caryl Chessman, a rapist and kidnapper who had not killed anyone. That execution prompted worldwide outrage, and the governor’s son, a Yale law alum, became a staunch death-penalty opponent.

Jerry Brown’s pick for chief justice of the California Supreme Court was his former campaign chauffeur Rose Bird, only 40 years old and without judicial experience. She proved fully capable of elevating her own ideology above the law.

Bird heard 64 capital cases over 10 years, and never voted to uphold a death sentence. The cases included Theodore Frank, duly convicted of kidnaping, torturing, raping, murdering and mutilating two-year-old Amy Sue Seitz in 1978. Families of crime victims took notice.

In 1986, California voters booted Bird by a two-to-one margin. Voters also ousted Brown picks Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, state Supreme Court associate justices who sided with Bird on the death-penalty cases.

However, the people’s voice had no discernible effect on Brown, who still shows a soft spot for violent criminals.

In 2013, Daniel Marsh, 15, tortured, murdered, and mutilated Oliver Northup, 87, and his wife Claudia Maupin, 76, in their Davis home. Police described the crime as “exceptional depravity,” and the autopsy report runs more than 6,000 words. Tried as an adult, Marsh drew a sentence of 52 years to life, with a possibility of parole in his early 40s.

Two years through his sentence, voters approved Proposition 57, barring prosecutors from filing juvenile cases in adult court. An appeal court applied the measure retroactively and reversed the murder conviction pending a “transfer hearing.”

If judged suitable for juvenile court, Marsh would be released at age 25. For the families of Northup and Maupin, the nightmare has returned.

In August 2018, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1391, which prohibited the prosecution of juvenile criminals aged 14 and 15 as adults. The Northup and Maupin relatives, along with four other families victimized by juvenile murderers, implored Brown to veto the measure.

“The opposition of certain crime victims and their families to this measure is intense,” Brown wrote in a Sept. 30 message, and “it has weighed on me.” Brown wrote that after he signed the legislation, so the victims didn’t weigh very heavily on the governor, who touted a “a more just system.”

Marsh’s hearing began the next day, and after more than a week of testimony, on Oct. 24, Yolo County judge Samuel McAdam reinstated Marsh’s sentence. At this writing, an extraordinary writ is pending with the appeal court. Whatever the ruling for Marsh, the judge charted what lies ahead after Jan. 1, when SB 1391 takes effect.

“It will soon be the law of California,” McAdam wrote, “that even a 15-year-old who commits a brutal double murder of strangers in his neighborhood will be adjudicated in juvenile court and not adult criminal court, without any weighing of factors.” The murderers will serve only until age 25, in comfy juvenile facilities.

As McAdam said of Marsh’s double murder, “it is reasonable for family members, neighbors, children in the community to live in some fear because of these crimes.”

That doesn’t weigh heavily on Jerry Brown, who has issued more than 1,100 pardons and in September commuted the life sentences of 20 murderers. He’s just as bad as ever when it comes to crime, and maybe worse.

Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the nonprofit Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He authored two books about the Marsh murders, Killer Confession and Exceptional Depravity.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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