Eye on the Courts: Marsh Gets 52 to Life, But Not Really

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

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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  1. Anon

    “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.”

    Sounds a lot worse to be sentenced to 52 years than just 25 years, and will most likely be a factor in any parole hearing I would think.  There is definite logic to having Daniel Marsh sentenced to 52 years – it sends a clear message how heinous the judge thought the crime was at the time of trial.

    1. Davis Progressive

      it’s actually just a math equation except that they are calling it 52 to life, when it’s really two 25 to life sentences that are served concurrently.  it won’t make a bit of difference.  the only question that the parole board will consider is whether marsh at age 42 will represent the kind of threat he was at age 17.

  2. Davis Progressive

    it’s funny we went back and forth a few months ago.  i told everyone at the time that it was not constitutional to hold him longer than 25 to life.  seems like the judge and prosecutor finally caught on despite the misleading 52 to life.  it’s in fact 25 to life.  doesn’t mean marsh will get out, but my guess is that he will at some point.

  3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

     i told everyone at the time that it was not constitutional to hold him longer than 25 to life.  seems like the judge and prosecutor finally caught on

    Then you must not understand the difference between statutory law and constitutional law. Maybe someday you will catch on?

    If you would read the story, you would see that the 25-year change came as a result of a California senate bill, signed into law last year, and was not a determination of a court ruling on constitutionality.

    Here is an explanation of the 2012 ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of juvenile LWOP sentences, which apparently you have no understanding of:

    “On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court banned the use of mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles. The landmark ruling, Miller v. Alabama,1 was the third in a recent series of juvenile sentencing decisions from the court; it built on prior rulings that banned the death penalty for juveniles2 and banned life without parole (LWOP) sentences for non-homicide offenses.3

    “Miller struck down laws in 28 states and the federal government that required mandatory, parole-ineligible life sentences for individuals whose homicide offenses occurred before the age of 18. The Court ruled that while sentences of life without parole were still permissible, they could only be imposed after judicial consideration of the individual circumstances in a case and must consider the offender’s maturity.”


        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          DP, first you state categorically that it was not constitutional to hold him longer than 25 to life.” That was your statement of fact, even though it is not a fact.

          Now, once you realize I have shown you were wrong, you come back with the question, “how come you didn’t site the more recent state supreme court case from this spring?”

          The obvious answer is because that court case never said it was not constitutional to hold him (or any other juvenile offender longer than 25 to life.” 

          That case was a new interpretation of 1990’s Prop 115, which had been interpreted previously to mean that 16 and 17 year olds convicted of murder with special circumstances had to get LWOP. The SCoC ruled that in those cases judges could give 25 years to life sentences. They did not rule that it was unconstitutional to give LWOP or any sentence longer than 25 to life, as you falsely stated from the outset. Further, the judgment of the SCoC issued in May of this year did not apply to Marsh, because he was not yet 16 and thus not subject to that prior interpretation of Prop 115. What applies in his case is the new statutory law, as cited by David Greenwald.

  4. Robin W.

    Judges don’t “argue.” They make findings of fact, they make determinations of law, and they issue decisions and orders. Judge Read did not argue that there were aggravating circumstances. He made findings re aggravating circumstances.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    Does this mean at 18 he goes into the general population? I don’t think he would survive very well, and I’m not one to seek cruel punishment in return. Lock him up, fine.

    1. Biddlin

      How is general population more cruel for Daniel than any other fresh fish? It’s awful, reformers have been saying that for decades but it is equally awful for much less dangerous people than Daniel Marsh. He bought his own ticket on this ride when he decided to murder two people. I cannot imagine a time, as long as he is mobile, when he will not be dangerous. I would hope his parole board will be extremely skeptical of any claims by Daniel or his doctors of rehabilitation.


      1. Robert Canning

        It’s always amazing to me that individuals suggest they know the future or what people will be like in the future. It’s very hard, given his age, to know what he will be like in 25, let alone 50 years. Think about who you were at 17. Would you (or others around you) suggested you would be the same 25 years later?

        1. justme

          Big difference is that how many 15 or 17 year olds are out breaking into houses and slaughtering innocent people????????    Hope you welcome this changed adult into your home when he gets out!!!

      2. Tia Will


        How is general population more cruel for Daniel than any other fresh fish? It’s awful, reformers have been saying that for decades but it is equally awful for much less dangerous people than Daniel Marsh.”

        You are right. It is awful for all. This is an argument for reform of the prison system, not an argument for brutalizing yet another young man. Especially when that “fresh fish” committed his crimes at age 15 ( a point in time when we do not consider individuals to have even enough maturity to drive a car) let alone believing that they have the full capacity of adults.

        We have an equally secure means of confining Mr. Marsh. It is the state mental hospital system where he could be confined for the same amount of time, if not more, and in a setting in which he would be far more likely to obtain appropriate medical care of which he is clearly in need. This is nothing more than revenge at its worst.

        1. Biddlin

          Such sympathy would seem better spent on the perhaps 300,000 mentally ill homeless, whose only crimes are poverty and guilelessness. BTW, I was operating/driving logging equipment at age 9. By age 15, I was considered responsible enough to care for a family business. Daniel Marsh is not some wide-eyed innocent. He is a calculating predator, who has demonstrated his skill and, I believe, his nature. However he got to this point, he is what he is, a sadistic killer.


    2. Robert Canning

      Between now and May he will be at DJJ in Stockton. He’ll then be transferred to adult prison – probably via Deuel Vocational Institution’s Reception Center where he’ll be housed in a mainline housing until “endorsed” for a mainline prison. He’ll have mental health assessments on arrival and may very well be enrolled in CDCR’s mental health treatment program. He’ll be at a reception center for 60-90 days. Given his youth and possibly other factors he may be housed initially in a special protective unit. It all depends on what the staff know and decide on arrival.

  6. Tia Will


    Such sympathy would seem better spent on the perhaps 300,000 mentally ill homeless, whose only crimes are poverty and guilelessness.”

    Such sympathy does not need to be placed on arbitrary limitation. One can have empathy for as many people as one wants in one’s heart. Empathy for the humanity of Mr. Marsh does not in any preclude empathy for others and certainly should not limit our efforts to eliminate callousness and brutality where ever it may be found.

    Also, the fact that you and I were employed by age 9-15 ( berry growing and distributing in my case) in no way means that we would be considered adults by our society. If done outside very strict limitations of family businesses, this would be considered child labor and would be illegal. We still would not be allowed to drive on public roads, marry, join the military or vote. Regardless of our personal industry, we were not adults. Nor was Mr. Marsh at the time of his crimes.

    1. Biddlin

      Tia, did Daniel know what he planned to do to his neighbours was wrong? Did he, in this knowledge, commit the heinous acts described in the trial testimony and exhibits? A jury of your neighbours and I believe that he did. Does the department of corrections offer adequate treatment? Not usually.

      Homeless mentally ill get a much lower level of care.


  7. South of Davis

    Tia wrote:

    > Such sympathy does not need to be placed on arbitrary limitation.

    Last night the husband of one of my wife’s friends referred to his sister as a SJW.  I had no idea what he was talking about and he told me it is a “Social Justice Warrior” and said it means someone who who repeatedly and vehemently engages in social justice “wars” on the Internet always taking the side if the (perceived) “victim”.

    I immediately asked him if he had a sister named Tia…  It turns out his sister is named Meghan, but I was wondering if Tia considers herself a SJW?

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