Sunday Commentary: No Surprise in the Marsh Ruling but the Real Question Still Lingers

Photo courtesy Davis Enterprise via DA Press Release

For all of the angst generated by the Prop. 57 juvenile transfer hearing, there was never a real chance that Daniel Marsh would have his matter handled in juvenile court.  However, that is of course not the end of story and the next battle will begin once the newly-signed SB 1391 takes effect on January 1 – if it takes effect.  More on that shortly.

Having listened to a portion of Daniel Marsh’s testimony, I felt like I was in a time warp.  One thing that appears missing in all of this discussion is perspective – perspective by Daniel Marsh, perspective by the court, perspective by all involved.

Perspective because the murder happened in 2013, the trial happened at the end of 2014, and thus for the most part, he has not even been in prison for four years – and yet, to listen to him talk, he talks about his life journey.

When he took the stand, he was very articulate in his ability to describe his state of mind.  He described his state of mind as rapidly spiraling out of control.  He could not sleep or eat.  He was bombarded with perpetual thoughts of violence.  He used drugs and alcohol as a way to dull the thoughts and provide relief – he said that that, along with watching gore movies, worked for a time but was less and less effective, even as he was consumed by such behavior for more and more of his time.

He was crying out for help.  His friends for the most part enabled him, rather than trying to intervene.  His thoughts centered on violence, killing people, hurting people and doing horrible things.

“I told everyone,” he said.  His friends were of no help.  “We were all damaged kids.”

He explained, “I felt like I was losing my mind.  I didn’t want what was happening to me to happen to me.”

Mr. Marsh was able to talk about treatments, things that didn’t work, things that he seems to feel are working.  But, while he talked about empathy, he also talked about how he couldn’t bear to think about the horrible things he did – I didn’t feel remorse or passion behind what he said.

He was able to intellectually explain that what he did was horrible, but it is not clear there are any feelings or emotion behind it.

Judge McAdam in his ruling noted: “Based on the record before the Court and given that he has not addressed the main traumas in his life at all in the five years since the crime, there is virtually no chance that Marsh will be rehabilitated before he turns 25 years old – it is certainly not a likelihood.”

The judge interestingly noted that the court reached this conclusion “while giving credit to Marsh’s testimony” and it “did not find him to be making an effort to manipulate or mislead the court in any way.”

The judge noted: “His tone and demeanor were appropriate and matched the seriousness the moment.”

The judge further added: “Marsh is coping well with being incarcerated: he is not exhibiting the signs of a serious mental illness. He has gained some insight and become more mindful, as Dr. Soulier concluded. This is a positive development. But this is merely coping in the most controlled environment; he has not made any meaningful progress on addressing the triggers of childhood and incident trauma that pose a risk to society. Even Dr. Soulier could not say beyond a reasonable medical certainty that Marsh was likely to be rehabilitated within the time.”

In the testimony, it was easy to see from hindsight that Daniel Marsh was headed into a very dark and disturbing place.  Judge McAdam writes: “In retrospect, it is easy to criticize both parents for failing to co-parent and not supporting a more robust treatment plan.”

But the judge adds, “But placing the blame on the mother and father really misses the point. No one is to blame for the crimes except Daniel Marsh.”

Here I find myself troubled by this comment a little bit.  On the one hand, I think that blaming the parents is unfair – even if there is blame to go around here.  There are many situations where there is childhood trauma, poor choices or bitter divorces, and it doesn’t lead to double murder and torture of the victims.

On the other hand, part of the entire problem here is we are talking about the actions of a 15-year-old child.  To say that no one is to blame for the crimes except for Mr. Marsh satisfies us in one respect in that it moves the focus back to the individual, but it ignores that something went terribly wrong to create a 15-year-old who ended up committing such a heinous crime.

The questions that the court must grapple with, however, are how to reconcile the gravity of this offense against the age of the offender, during a time when we are starting to much better understand the impacts of childhood trauma and brain development on the commission of crime.

That becomes all the more urgent because this issue is not going away.  Judge McAdam intentionally deferred discussion of SB 1391, but clearly that now looms large.

SB 1391 eliminated any 14- or 15-year-old minors to be tried in adult court.  SB 1391 goes into effect on January 1, 2019, and the DA believes it “may overturn the Marsh sentence and ruling by Judge McAdam and will require that Marsh be released at the age of 25.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment.  In his signing statement, Governor Jerry Brown wrote that “in reviewing this bill I have considered the fact that young people adjudicated in juvenile court can be held beyond their original sentence if necessary.”

He noted, “Welfare and Institutions code sections 1800 and 1800.5 allow either the Director of the Division of Juvenile Justice, or the Board of Juvenile Hearings, to petition for extended incarceration if a youth is deemed truly dangerous. This mechanism exists under current law, and has been used in the past when circumstances have warranted. It will continue to be used when needed, and there are no time limits prescribed in statute.”

DA Jeff Reisig questions that evaluation.  He wrote in his release, “Proponents of SB 1391 have argued that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can keep Marsh in prison longer based on a provision that has never been applied.”

Then there is the legal challenge.

Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen filed an appeal to the Sixth Appellate District, arguing that SB 1391 violates the California Constitution, saying that “it is not consistent with Proposition 57 and does not further the intent of Proposition 57 as it was approved by the voters.”

Like Jeff Reisig, his Yolo counterpart, Jeff Rosen argues that, while he sees the need for rehabilitating teen offenders, he believes that SB 1391 “does not take into account people who are past redemption.”

He said, “There are dangerous exceptions.”

But are there, and if so, how would we know at this early point in time?  These are all issues that will have to be sorted out by the courts.

As Mr. Reisig conceded in his press release: “This appeal will take many months to reach its conclusion.”

—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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8 Comments

  1. Tia Will

     But while he talked about empathy, he talked about how he couldn’t bear to think about the horrible things he did – I didn’t feel remorse or passion behind what he said.”

    Although I am assured by my psychologist partner, that at the time of trial, Mr. Marsh did not display the characteristics and behaviors of an individual with a serious mental disorder, I cannot help but feel that this may be more due to the fact that we do not fully understand the interface between mental illness and criminal behavior. I believe that 5, 10, 25 years down the road, we may well see this kind of lack of remorse or compassion as a manifestation of mental illness, not as a manifestation of “evil” whatever we perceive that to be.

    There are multiple precedents in medicine for misunderstanding behavior driven by illness. Women with mental illness were once felt to have a “female problem” thus the word “hysteria”. We are only beginning to understand the issues of slower cognitive brain development in boys than girls and how it may affect impulsivity and behavior, including criminal behavior.

    This is not to say that people who are dangerous should be released. But, I continue to maintain that for some who are currently imprisoned, the better choice would be a long term secure mental hospital. Mr. Marsh may or may not fit in this category, but our current DA does not even allow for this in his pursuit of those who have committed crimes, but may in fact be dangerously mentally ill rather than dangerously criminal.

  2. John Hobbs

    “dangerously mentally ill rather than dangerously criminal.”

    The two conditions are not mutually exclusive, doc.  I think the most humane setting is best for all prisoners and mental patients alike. I think Marsh’s recent appearance showed that he is physically safe, seems to be getting appropriate treatment and does well in his current setting. His testimony and demeanor also show the classic signs of a psychopath. He knows what we want to hear and plays to the crowd. Also agree that Reisig doesn’t really care about much other than getting the conviction. His own behavior lately seems to put him somewhere on the antisocial personality spectrum.

    No easy cheap solutions because of the screwed up education, law enforcement and corrections systems.

    1. David Greenwald

      ” I think Marsh’s recent appearance showed that he is physically safe”

      Not really brought up in this is his description of being in a room for 23 hours with a violent and unstable individual who is far larger than him and completely unpredictable.

  3. John Hobbs

    If “his description” is true, that should certainly be addressed and corrected. I don’t know if I missed this in the coverage or not, but were either Sheri Hosking or Bill Marsh in court?

      1. John Hobbs

        I’m not sure I’m clear on that either, but I’d want to see my son, even under those circumstances. I have no clue as to their current places of residence, or if either has had contact with Daniel since the trial.

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