“Portrait of a Killer,” on CBS 48 Hours last week (Feb. 23) showed that the perpetrator of a 2013 double murder in Davis was only 15 years old. He left no evidence and might have gotten away with it had he not talked to friends. More disturbing, as the program confirmed, he might still get away with it due to a new California law that shows more consideration for convicted murderers than their innocent victims. To its great credit, 48 Hours starts the story with the victims and their families.
Victoria Hurd tells how her mother Claudia Maupin met Oliver “Chip” Northup, a prominent attorney and bluegrass musician, in the Unitarian Church in Davis, CA, a low-crime college town. On April 14, 2013 Claudia, 76, and Chip, 87, fail to show up for church, and Chip does not make his gig with the Putah Creek Crawdads.
Northup had been stabbed 61 times and Maupin a full 67 times. The program mentions torture but fails to convey the full horror of the crime, one of the worst in state and national history. The autopsy report ran a full 16 pages and more than 6,000 words.
Police get a call identifying Davis teen Daniel Marsh as the killer. He confesses to the crime, telling police how great it made him feel. When the court declines to toss his confession, he changes his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. In 2014, a Yolo County jury finds that Marsh was sane and pronounces him guilty.
To the great relief of Victoria Hurd and other family members, Marsh draws a sentence of 52 years to life. Then he catches a break, but not due to any new exculpatory evidence. The 2016 Proposition 57 bars direct filing of juvenile cases in adult court, and the state applies it retroactively to Marsh. The convicted double murderer gets a “transfer hearing” to determine if he should have been tried in juvenile court.
In the meantime, 48 Hours might have noted, his conviction was reversed. So the masterful prosecution by Amanda Zambor and Michael Cabral had been set aside, for purely political reasons.
Before the hearing, Marsh delivers a TED talk on a YouTube video, casting himself as victim of sexual abuse as a child. The convicted murder has discovered there are no evil people in the world, only damaged people. For the victims’ families, it is a taunt, and in juvenile court it gets worse.
His public-defender attorneys put him on the stand. He claims he is a changed man, but he can’t look at the victim’s families. The episode cites forensic Dr. Matthew Soulier, whom Marsh once threatened to kill. Even so the “forensic psychiatrist” does not believe in “evil, un-reformable people,” and the episode fails to cover his bizarre courtroom testimony.
When asked if the prospect of a new hearing prompted Marsh to change his behavior and cast himself as a victim, Soulier testified “I’m not a human lie detector.” It was as though an FBI expert discovered DNA or fingerprint evidence that exposed a suspect’s lies, then declined to say so in court.
On the other hand, Dr. Soulier was certain that Marsh had shown growth and was fully capable of holding a job and supporting himself, That is pure opinion, not forensic evidence. The episode might have noted that Marsh’s appeals had been exhausted and the hearing did not restore them.
Judge Samuel McAdam plays it close to the vest but found Marsh suitable for adult court, restored his conviction, and sent him back to state prison. But as the episode noted, Senate Bill 1391, signed last year by outgoing governor Jerry Brown, makes impossible the prosecution of 14- and 15 year-olds in adult court, whatever the gravity of their crime.
The episode might have cited Brown’s signing message, in which he says victims’ testimony weighed on him. He signed the bill anyway, citing a need for “redemption and reformation wherever possible.” For all but the willfully blind, that was not possible in this case, and the episode might have quoted Judge McAdam’s October 24, 2018 ruling.
“It will soon be the law of California 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.” Those 15-year-olds will serve only until age 25, in comfy juvenile facilities.
Though a writ appealing McAdam’s ruling has been denied, at this writing it remains unclear how SB 1391 will affect Marsh and other convicted murderers. If the law’s constitutionality is upheld, the rule going forward will be no justice, no peace.