From the time that the plea agreement in the KetMoRee stabbing was announced, it was more than a bit of a head scratcher for me. While it wasn’t that shocking that the DA was willing to go to voluntary manslaughter and a stipulated 24-year sentence as opposed to murder and a life sentence for the main defendant, given the known facts of the case, the fact that they allowed the other defendants to walk was nothing short of stunning.
One question that I – and others I have spoken to as well – have had is why wouldn’t the DA’s office at least get the five co-defendants on gang charges and go for prison time, especially since several were involved in an attack on someone at the jail?
We know that at times the DA’s office will take into account the family of the victim. For instance, the DA’s office probably would have preferred to seek the death penalty in the Robert Hodges triple murder case, but the family wanted the case resolved and Mr. Hodges accepted responsibility in exchange for life without parole and so the DA respected the wishes of the family.
I know in at least one high profile case, the family of the victim played a huge role in the relatively lenient sentence.
Unfortunately Mr. Gonzales blames the judge when the judge was not the one who had anything to do with this.
Mr. Gonzales writes: “Today, I intend to enlighten the communities of Northern California about Judge David Rosenberg’s unjustifiable actions in my son’s case.”
He continues: “My family and I stand as members of society, greatly impacted by the lenient punishment given to six murderers. Punishment in the justice system is supposed to protect the interests of the victims, discourage others from committing similar crimes, and protect society as a whole.”
Mr. Gonzales then writes: “This past December, three of the six men who killed my son also used forks to severely harm another inmate while in jail. And despite knowing their need for violence, Judge Rosenberg dismissed five of the active gang members from charges for the murder of my son Peter in exchange for one to take the blame.
“He allowed the other five guilty men to suffer no consequences for taking a life. This week, the other two involved in the jail fight received a short five months in jail (after credits) for attempting to take another life simply because they apologized.”
According to Henry Gonzales: “The people of Davis, the Davis Police Department and Yolo County DA’s Office need to know that their efforts are being thwarted by a judge who simply doesn’t care about the wellbeing of their communities. The justice system does not work if officials like Judge Rosenberg do not do their part in acting in the public interest.
“Judge Rosenberg has taught gang members many things,” he said. “First, if you commit or aid and abet a murder, you will not be punished. Second, if you apologize for a heinous crime, he will not look at your repeated history of violent crimes, but instead, give you another chance to repeat it. In fact, Judge Rosenberg will not even look at any admissible evidence presented by the prosecution.”
He concludes: “With Judge Rosenberg on the stand, we all have reason to fear for our lives.”
Our hearts go out to Henry Gonzales, the father of a murder victim. We cannot imagine the pain and suffering he has had to endure for more than two years after the loss of his son. The problem here is that, while his pain is understandable, he is aiming his anger at the wrong target.
The reason the charges were dismissed against the five co-defendants had nothing to do with the judge. It was not the judge who initiated dismissing the charges. It was the prosecutor in the case. If hard questions are to be asked they should be asked of the elected district attorney, not a judge who was simply doing his job.
Unfortunately the time of grief is not a great time to learn a civics lessons. I find myself in the position of teaching relatives, usually of the accused, about how the system actually works.
In the legal system we are, for reasons unapparent to me, taught that the judge is the most powerful actor in the court. Why wouldn’t we believe that? After all, a judge is the neutral party, the arbiter of the law, and the administrator of justice.
But in the real world the most powerful agent is not the judge, but the prosecutor. Step by step, judicial discretion has been taken away from judges. That was intended to rein in lenient judges and impose mandatory sentencing schemes.
The most powerful agent in the courtroom is by far the prosecutor and it has been probably so since the start of the system. It is the prosecutor who makes the decision as to who to charge, when to charge, and what to charge the defendant with.
It is the prosecutor who has the power of plea bargain, to accept a lesser conviction and dismiss remaining charges. That is what happened here.
Unfortunately in this case, no one has asked the DA’s office to explain why they dismissed outright the charges against the five co-defendants. The letter from Mr. Gonzales makes the matter all the more urgent, but someone needs to let him know that he should be asking these questions of the prosecutor, not the judge.
—David M. Greenwald reporting