Judge David Reed on Friday issued the maximum possible sentence of 52 years to life to Daniel Marsh for the 2013 double homicide of Oliver Northup and Claudia Maupin. On Friday, the hearing last two hours and it continued a dispute over what Mr. Marsh’s sentence should be.
Judge Read argued that the aggravating factors were overwhelming. That Marsh made meticulous plans and then concealed his crime. The teen, just 15 at the age of his crimes, bragged about the slayings and told police that they gave him a thrill and a rush.
The judge noted that Marsh’s actions were neither impetuous or recklessly impulsive and that he was proud of his crime and had mutilated the victims out of morbid curiosity.
Under the law, because Mr. Marsh was a juvenile, he was both ineligible for the death penalty or life without parole. However, his attorneys argued for a reduced sentence of 25 to life, making Eighth Amendment claims that the maximum sentence would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
In fact, Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson would argue that, while a lesser sentence could not guarantee release, it would grant him an opportunity to get parole.
Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Cabral disagreed. He argued that the defendant had an “evil soul” and that in his 28 years as prosecutor, he had never seen such a heinous and reprehensible act. He would argue, “This case screams out for 52 years to life. Nothing else would be appropriate.”
This exchange is important because, at the end of the day, the DA sent out a release noting, “Defendant sentenced to 52 years to life in prison. Because he committed the crime as a juvenile, he will be eligible for parole in 25 years. He will be 42 years old.”
The Enterprise, toward the end of their coverage, adds, “Because of his juvenile status, Marsh will receive a mandatory parole hearing upon his 25th year of incarceration, according to Cabral, who said if he’s able he plans to be there to oppose his release.”
Confused? I sure was.
Last year, the California legislature passed SB 260, introduced by Senator Loni Hancock and co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch, Youth Law Center, the Friends Committee on Legislation of California, and the Post-Conviction Justice Project of the University of Southern California.
On September 16, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. “It establishes a “youth offender parole hearing” mechanism for young people serving time for crimes committed as a juvenile. It provides a process by which growth and maturity of youth offenders can be assessed and a meaningful opportunity for release established.”
It creates Penal Code section 3051, effective January 1, 2014, which sets the time of review as dependent on the controlling offense. So if the controlling offense is less than 25 years to life, then the person would be eligible for release on parole during his or her 20th year of incarceration. And if the controlling offense sentence is a life term of 25 years to life, the person shall be eligible for release on parole during his or her 25th year of incarceration.
So, because Daniel Marsh was sentence to two terms of 25 years to life and one term of two years (for the special circumstances), his controlling offense is 25 years to life.
A guide to SB 260 for Prisoners and their Families notes that “we expect many things about the Youth Offender Parole Hearing to be the same as a regular parole hearing. For example, a person will still have to be found suitable for parole in order to be released, and we expect some existing suitability and unsuitability factors to remain the same. Prisoners also will retain their right to counsel and all other rights they would have at a regular parole hearing.”
There are also key differences. Under PC section 4801, the board “shall give great weight to the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner in accordance with relevant case law.”
So the entire argument for 52 years to life instead of 25 years to life is probably window dressing and a bit for posterity’s sake. The parole board in 25 years will be able to, of course, have access to the contemporaneous arguments about the brutality and the heinousness of the crime.
It definitely seems strange, given how hard this point was fought – the fact that the defense made a cruel and unusual punishment motion and the judge delayed sentencing as he considered the factors.
Ms. Maupin’s daughter Victoria Hurd told the local press back in November, “We want to see the defendant off the streets, we want to see him never secure freedom from incarceration for the rest of his life. We’re convinced from the evidence that was presented at the trial that he will kill again if he is back on the street so we want him incarcerated.
“He was very intentional in what he did and I don’t think that there’s any chance for his rehabilitation based on the evidence I heard in court. I think that once he’s released, he will kill again.”
Mr. Marsh would be eligible for parole at the age of 42, but given the magnitude of the crime he committed, it would be very hard to imagine a parole board granting parole at that point.
But the critical thing is that right now – while the prosecutor is certainly very familiar with the case, he is probably a bit too close to it to make any sort of objective judgment.
In 25 years, the parole board will have access to these court transcripts and perhaps to Mr. Cabral himself. But they will also have 25 years of data to consult, 25 years of new research on brain development, and new approaches to consider.
In other words, when a parole decision is made in 25 years it will be based on data and science and facts rather than fear and assumptions.
In the end it may well be that Daniel Marsh is forever a danger to society, but we don’t need to make that final decision today.
—David M. Greenwald reporting