Appellate Court Reverses Parole Denial in Yolo County Murder Case

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prison-reformChris Fowler, in November of 1983 and then 22 years old, was convicted of second degree murder for the beating death of 22-month-old Aaron Miller.  He was sentenced to 15 years to life and was eligible for parole on December 23, 1993.

On November 8, 2010, the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) found Mr. Fowler suitable for parole.  However, the governor reversed the Board’s decision, concluding that, if released, Mr. Fowler would pose an unreasonable risk to public safety.

At that time, the governor reasoned, “The utter inhumanity of Mr. Fowler’s crime, coupled with his inability or unwillingness to understand, own, or achieve some credible level of insight, tells me that there is a substantial risk of danger to the public were he to be released from prison.”

Yolo County Judge David Rosenberg agreed, and denied Mr. Fowler’s petition challenging the governor’s decision to overturn the parole board.

Mr. Fowler has appealed, contending, “There is no evidence supporting the Governor’s stated reasons for reversing the grant of parole.”

The appellate court on Tuesday ruled in Mr. Fowler’s favor, writing, “Cognizant of the rule that the Governor’s decision need only be supported by a ‘modicum’ of evidence, we nonetheless conclude the Governor’s decision is not supported by evidence that defendant will pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released from prison.”

The appellate court notes that the defendant lived with the mother of the infant, along with the woman’s three-year-old.

“On October 30, 1983, following an evening of trick-or-treating, Miller and defendant had an argument and stayed up all night drinking and smoking marijuana,” they write.  The defendant then was awakened by the baby crying and beat and shook the baby.

They report, “Because of the severity of his injuries, Aaron was transferred to the UC Davis Medical Center.  Aaron arrived comatose and was pronounced neurologically dead two days later.  The cause of death was  ‘craniocerebral trauma.’ “

Mr. Fowler would be arrested, and pled guilty to second degree murder.  He was sentenced to 15 years to life.

A 2004 psychological assessment concluded:  “In my opinion, Mr. Fowler’s level of risk of re-offense is very low. . . .  Mr. Fowler has matured considerably since the time of the crime, he has engaged in ongoing introspective processes with measurable changes in the troubling personality features that contributed to the offense. . . .  He is genuinely remorseful for the offense and he is committed to substance abuse/dependency recovery.”

In 2007 a psychological evaluation noted defendant acknowledged his crime and accepted full responsibility for his actions.  Defendant stated “he [did] not have a total understanding of why he committed what he characterize[d] as a horrible crime.”

“Our review of the record reveals no evidence connecting any arguable lack of insight to the conclusion that defendant would present a risk to public safety if released on parole,” the court writes.  “Defendant’s positive behavior in prison, his lengthy participation in seemingly every available rehabilitative program and volunteer program while incarcerated, and his statements to psychologists and the Board do not establish any likelihood defendant would pose a risk to public safety if released on parole.  In addition, none of the psychologists who evaluated defendant believed he posed such a risk.”

The court finds, “A review of the record reveals that a defendant has acknowledged the material aspects of his or her conduct and crime, shown an understanding of its causes, and demonstrated remorse, [and] the Governor’s mere refusal to accept such evidence is not itself a rational or sufficient basis upon which to conclude that the inmate lacks insight, let alone that he or she remains currently dangerous.”

The court admonishes Governor Brown’s decision, stating “When the basis for the Governor’s determination lacks any evidentiary support and conflicts with the evidence in the entire record, it is arbitrary and capricious.  It is not rational.”

In their opinion, “Here, the record supports the Board’s finding that there is no evidence defendant lacks insight and understanding of his murder of Aaron which renders him a danger to public safety if released.  The record does not establish a link between any alleged lack of insight and the conclusion that defendant is currently dangerous.”

The Bee reports that Yolo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven called the appellate decision “very disappointing. We have been in touch with Baby Aaron’s family over the years and they have attended every parole hearing. I know that this will be very painful for them.”

The baby’s aunt told the Bee, “For them to release a crazy man into the streets is absurd. He’s never, ever shown remorse. He can’t. He’s amoral.”

But her assessment was disputed by years of psychological reports and the court assessment.

The State Board of Parole Hearings recommended a parole for Fowler in the latter part of 2010.  Several people offered Mr. Fowler employment and he would have had a home with his parents.

However, the governor succumbed to heavy lobbying from Yolo County officials.

The Woodland Police Department and the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office sent letters to the governor, requesting that he reverse the Parole Board’s decision.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig issued a statement in 2011: “Clearly Governor Brown reviewed all the evidence and made the right call,” said Mr. Reisig. “Our community cannot risk having a man who savagely killed a baby for no apparent reason living back among us.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “Appellate Court Reverses Parole Denial in Yolo County Murder Case”

  1. Themis

    [quote]The court admonishes Governor Brown’s decision, stating “When the basis for the Governor’s determination lacks any evidentiary support and conflicts with the evidence in the entire record, it is arbitrary and capricious. It is not rational.”[/quote]

    The court system as a whole is not rational the way it is. Chris Fowler had a trial, served his time and has been found to be remorseful. It has been such a long time how can the baby’s family know what he is like today. As for the DA’s office making a statement, I have no doubt they feel once convicted no one ever deserves to be released.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    My thoughts as well. This stuff all gets politicized and we end up making these decisions based on the appearance of being tough on crime rather than any evidence based knowledge. The people in the best position to make the decision were the psychologists and the parole board. The parole board very rarely releases people, so they must have felt that this was a good risk. The guy did something horrible when he was 22, how can the family possibly judge him now better than the professionals?

  3. JimmysDaughter

    Mr. Fowler beat a 3 year old child to death because the child was crying. (I don’t understand how any mother, even drunk and high, could allow that.) He wants to be released from prison.
    Another scenario -someone who plea bargains to a crime he did not commit will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. If Mr. Fowler is released, he will not have his name on a registry of offenders. No one in his neighborhood will need to be notified about his crime.
    Imagine if Mr. Sonne, the young man acquitted of rape a few months ago, had plea bargained. Mr. Sonne would have to register as an offender for the rest of his life.
    That is not justice.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    He will be a parolee and a convicted felon which will severely restrict his options. He was 22 when he committed the crime, now he’s 51. To me the bigger problem is not his situation, but rather the requirements for lifelong registration for sex offenses.

  5. Mr Obvious

    [quote]To me the bigger problem is not his situation, but rather the requirements for lifelong registration for sex offenses.[/quote]
    Yeah, people who rape little kids shouldn’t have to register as a sex offender for life.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    You probably hit the class of people most likely justified by a sex offender status, the problem is that the category also includes 19 year olds who had consensual sex with 17 year olds. In between those extremes is a broad class of people turned into outcastes, again based less on any scientific evidence of risk and more based on politics.

  7. JimmysDaughter

    ” In between those extremes is a broad class of people turned into outcastes, again based less on any scientific evidence of risk and more based on politics.”

    This sentence makes my point far better than my attempt. I guess that’s why your website is popular. Thank you.

  8. JimmysDaughter

    Mr. Obvious, do you believe people who drive drunk are a potential risk to the lives and safety of little children? If you are truly concerned about the safety of little children, talk to the politicians about creating a DDRO list- dangerous DUI repeat offenders. Those offenders could steer their car onto a sidewalk and kill a little child. They are a danger in your neighborhood, too. They are at risk of re-offending, too.

  9. JimmysDaughter

    I do not wish to diminish the severity of the pain caused by the death of Megan, the reason for Megan’s Law. I just think it’s time to examine the spirit of that law.

  10. Mr Obvious

    JD, I think you may be on to something with the drunk driving stuff but I think it would have to be repeat offenders. I’d be fine with a big sign on their cars to start.

    David, your comment about lifetime registration was vague and I had a feeling about what you meant. I almost agree with you on the 17 and 19 year old issue but what percentage of sex registrants are your example of straight up consensual sex. I’d say it would have to be pretty low.

    If 17 and 19 is ok then what is not?

  11. David M. Greenwald

    Mr. Obvious: If you look at the Artz appellate article from a few months ago, I can’t do so very easily on my phone, you can see that there is some discretion by the judge there to put them as a sex offender for a misdemeanor charge even.

    But I specifically phrased my point to accommodate the majority of yours: ” In between those extremes is a broad class of people turned into outcastes, again based less on any scientific evidence of risk and more based on politics.”

    That’s my concern, I fear that in trying to protect ourselves we allow a lot of people who represent relatively low risk to become segregated into broader classes of criminality which precludes rights, access, and ability to work. That just can’t help the situation. So my point was that I think we need to find a more scientific assessment of risk and find ways that low risk people can more easily become full members of society.

  12. JimmysDaughter

    Mr. Obvious, another example is a person emailing child porn to another person to ruin that person’s reputation. Many years ago, people were not so cautious, people opened email attachments by accident. Then their computers were infected with very bad images. That person would legally be in possesion of child porn by mistakedly opening a very bad email attachment. Later, people understood this, and the public became much more cautious of email attachments. But earlier, a person could have no interest whatsoever in such disgusting images, but could be incriminated. There are other examples of situations that could incriminate an innocent person. Your mention of consensual sex is another example. I don’t think Megan’s Law was written with consensual sex (as you mentioned, a 17 year old having consensual sex) in mind.
    You mention a big sign on their cars. That kind of reminds me of a scarlet letter.
    When is it okay to say, “they’ve served their time, they are not a threat to public safety” and when is it okay to say, “they are done with their incarceration, but they are still a threat to public safety, and we need to warn the community”?

  13. Mr Obvious

    The Artz case is a poor example. That was not a cut and dry case as are most consensual sexual encounters.

    JD, how many cases were there using your example of child porn.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    The point wasn’t the Artz case, it was the underlying law there.

    Let me throw this idea out to you, how about changing sex registration to this: registration on first offense ends when parole/ probation ends. Second offense, would require petitioning the court similar to the process of expungement on other charges. The court would then be able to assess risk to the community, get psych evals from both sides, etc.

  15. David M. Greenwald

    BTW, research suggests that sex registration laws may be so onerous in their stigma they encourage recidivism rather than prevent it:

    “[quote]In this 2010 preliminary paper Prescott and Rockoff theorize that sex offender notification laws may increase recidivism rates because offenders figure things can’t get any worse for them than they already are. Life on a sex offender notification list tends to result in “loss of employment, housing, or social ties,” as well as “stress, loneliness, and depression.” Presumably, criminals figure that they’re already living out the punishment, so why not commit another crime? The researchers suggest it’s also possible that a marginalized life outside prison may make prison life relatively more attractive. If the researchers are right and the unintended consequences of notification lists is more crime, it’s well worth wondering whether they’re worth keeping.[/quote]

  16. Mr Obvious

    I really have no interest in removing child rapists from a sex registration list when their parole is up. I agree that having to register as a sex offender for life would suck and probably make life harder. What sex crimes do you think a person should be able to commit and not have to register for life?

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