The California District Attorneys Association announced Thursday their support of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and crime victims with his announcement that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will attend parole hearings to represent the victims in place of Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has issued many new directives since being elected in November, including one which says that Los Angeles prosecutors will no longer be allowed to attend parole hearings. But as Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert explained, county prosecutors represent the people, and are there for the victims.
In a letter to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, Sheriff Villanueva wrote, “We believe [it] is important to give a voice for the voiceless and keep our commitment in good standing in support of those who have been victimized by violent crime … I cannot understand why your office is barring prosecutors from attending parole hearings.” He added, “[I]f prosecutors will no longer be allowed to attend parole hearings, the LASD will attend … in the absence of your prosecutors. At the request of family members, the LASD will do everything possible to give victims a voice at the table to address their concerns. … I strongly believe this is the right thing to do.”
DA Schubert said Gascón’s directive “throws crime victims to the wolves.”
Schubert said that Sirhan Sirhan, currently serving a life sentence for the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy, is up for parole again March 21, 2021. Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968 in Los Angeles, California. Bobby Kennedy had just won the Democratic presidential primary in California.
Sirhan Sirhan was convicted by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. Schubert said he has been denied parole 17 times. Sirhan Sirhan is incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California.
Sirhan was sentenced to death in 1969, but his sentence was commuted after the California Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment in 1972.
Schubert said the Condit-Nolan Public Participation in Parole Act of 1984 was passed largely in response to Sirhan being granted a parole date. The law says any person interested in the grant or denial of parole to any prisoner in a state prison shall have the right to submit a statement of views in support of or in opposition to the granting of parole. Then Los Angeles District Attorney John Van De Camp was outraged and the parole was rescinded. After that, this law was passed to allow greater public participation in parole hearings.
“It’s outrageous and contrary to victims rights that the current DA believes the role of the prosecutor ends at sentencing,” Schubert said.
But under Gascón’s new directive, no one from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office will be allowed to attend Sirhan Sirhan’s parole hearing, despite the magnitude of his crime. “So much for the public participation,” Schubert said.
The California District Attorneys Association says this is an abdication of the District Attorney’s responsibility. “The District Attorney is there to ensure public safety,” CEO Greg Totten says in a new video by the CDAA. “They [DAs] know the commissioners, they’re tried the case, they’ve lived with the case, and have rapport with the family” of the victims.
In the video, CEO Totten and Amador County District Attorney Todd Riebe, co-chair of CDAA’s Lifer/Parole Committee said CDAA is working with its members and retired prosecutors to ensure victims are represented at parole hearings for Los Angeles County cases. “Under Marsy’s Law, the California Constitution was amended to specifically recognize victims’ rights in criminal proceedings, including parole proceedings,” said Riebe. “Prosecutors are specifically designated as an appropriate person to represent the interests of victims at parole hearings, and they do so in every other county in the state, so we feel compelled to step in to help navigate the process for victims.”
“As prosecutors, we are horrified. If a victims’ family asks for an advocate on their behalf, they say ‘I’ll do it.'”
Riebe noted another high-profile murder case: Tex Watson, a disciple of mass murderer Charles Manson, who in 1969 murdered seven people in Los Angeles and used the victims’ blood to leave messages on the walls of the home. Riebe said Watson has had 17 parole hearings over the years. “Now, no Los Angeles District Attorneys will be there to oppose his parole at the next hearing,” because of Gascón’s directive. “I urge Gascón to change this directive for the sake of the victims he serves in his community.”
Gascón, the former San Francisco District Attorney, is the architect of Proposition 47 which largely decriminalized theft and drug crimes by reducing those crimes and a number of other “non-violent” felonies to misdemeanors; and Prop. 57, which allows early release for “non-violent offenders,” including rape by intoxication of an unconscious person, human trafficking involving a sex act with minors, arson causing great bodily harm, drive-by shooting, assault with a deadly weapon, and hostage taking.
Billionaire oligarch George Soros funded more than $2.5 million of George Gascón’s race for Los Angeles District Attorney.
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