On Friday morning, Judge Rosenberg’s courtroom was the place to be, with two sentencing hearings for cases that we are tracking. As it turned out, the two cases could not be more different, both in breadth of media attention and in terms of complexity.
First up was the sentencing of Robert Hodges for killing his three children. The courtroom was packed. There were cameras lined up in the jury box hoping to capture a moment of humanity for a man who did the unthinkable – killed his three children and nearly his wife. They got all that and more.
The Hodges case is a real tragedy. Horrific murder. It was heart-wrenching to listen to the victim impact statements, to the hurt, the pain, the bewilderment. Mr. Hodges himself didn’t disappoint – breaking down, he apologized for his actions.
But Judge Rosenberg was not in a forgiving mood. Calling Mr. Hodges a “Jekyll and Hyde,” Judge Rosenberg said that he was a “serial killer of his own children,” and called this the “darkest, most depraved case I’ve ever handled.”
This was a horrific case, but never in doubt. Mr. Hodges copped a plea, taking life without parole in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Nevertheless, elected DA Jeff Reisig was on hand for the sentencing in this case.
With Judge Rosenberg having handed out the sentence of life without parole, the courtroom cleared out. Away went the media. By the time the judge got around to hearing the case of Ricky
Hernandez and Joshua Cadenaz-Lopez, the court was empty of media and only family and friends of the two remained.
This is too bad because, while media were on hand to capture the moments of a tragedy, they inadvertently turned their back on a massive injustice unfolding before their eyes.
On Friday, the motions for a new trial were postponed as Jem Martin, attorney for Mr. Cadenaz-Lopez, brought to the court’s attention that he may have additional information that would cast doubt on the verdict against his client.
Both men were convicted in a lengthy trial that ended in early November. Mr. Hernandez faces 85 years in prison for robbery and gang and weapons charges, while Mr. Cadenaz-Lopez faces 85 to 100 years.
In their motions for a new trial, Deputy Public Defender Lisa Lance attempted to get the judge to throw out the gang charges. If the gang charges were to go away, so too would a gang-weapons enhancement, and Mr Hernandez would go from basically a life without parole sentence for the robberies to between 10 and 20 years.
In the meantime, Mr. Martin believes his client is actually innocent of the charges. He was not forthcoming with details about the new evidence on Friday, but Judge Rosenberg agreed to postpone the hearing and sentencing to February 22 in order to allow Mr. Martin to more thoroughly investigate the new evidence that could potentially clear his client.
Ms. Lance, in her motion for a new trial for Mr. Hernandez, asked the judge to throw out convictions on the stand-alone gang charges and gang enhancements, which are in part responsible for the lengthy nature of his sentence. She writes, “Mr. Hernandez is asking for a new trial on only those charges as the verdicts are contrary to the standard and enhancements, and is requesting that Enhancement 2a be dismissed as contrary to the law.”
She argues, “Mr. Hernandez was not in any gang photos, cell phone videos, YouTubes, and had no prior contacts with Broderick Boy members.”
In fact, she argued he is not even from the Broderick neighborhood in West Sacramento and that his biggest tattoo said “Turlock,” showing that “he was from Turlock, not Broderick.” Ms. Lance argues, “There was no evidence besides innuendo and speculation offered by the gang cops in this case that he was a Broderick Boy.”
Deputy DA Kyle Hasapes countered that there “was more than sufficient evidence to support Detective Boudinot’s conclusion that defendant Hernandez was an active Broderick Boy.”
For instance, Mr. Hasapes notes: “According to Detective Boudinot the statements from defendant Hernandez to Mr. Baeza regarding not snitching are important because criminal street gangs do not tolerate snitching. Snitching is considered the lowest form of person. Snitches are going to be dealt with immediately and typically violently when information could get another person in trouble with law enforcement.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Martin argues, “There was substantial, uncontroverted evidence which supported Defendant’s alibi that he was not present at the robberies because he was passed out at home during that time, high on some combination of alcohol, marijuana and narcotics.”
But the biggest piece of evidence is evidence that “the person wearing the green gloves in the robberies, who was alleged to have been (Mr. Cadenaz-Lopez), was actually an uncharged third party, Alec Jorrin.”
Mr. Martin notes, “The Defense produced evidence that showed that Mr. Jorrin was wearing the exact same shoes, in a video taken just weeks before the robberies that he wore in the robberies. The shoes attributed to (Mr. Cadenaz-Lopez), which were found at another defendant’s residence, do not match the shoes worn by the actual robber, in the surveillance videos.”
The new evidence apparently related to Mr. Jorrin. But Mr. Martin did not elaborate on it on Friday.
There is no doubt that the murder of his children by Robert Hodges is uniquely newsworthy. It is one of the worst mass killings in Yolo County history and the senseless nature of it brought out the media from across the region.
The problem here is that, while media are willing to cover the tragedy, they fail to cover the massive injustice unfolding in the same courtroom a few moments later. Two men face life in prison for crimes in which no one was hurt. One of these men may in fact be innocent, while the other one faces decades in prison on top of his crimes, based on weak and overcharged gang evidence.
This is a monumental injustice, and unfortunately one that is not getting the coverage it deserves.
—David M. Greenwald reporting