Commentary: The Case for Commuting the Sentence of Ajay Dev

Ajay Dev in 2017 with his two sons

We are rapidly coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the conviction of Ajay Dev and his 378-year sentence for allegedly raping his adopted daughter over a five-year period of time, now over 15 years ago.  Many, including the Vanguard, believe that Mr. Dev was wrongly convicted of this crime and recent evidence has emerged to corroborate the notion that the girl lied in order to avoid being deported to Nepal.

However, an appellate court  in 2017 denied an appeal and the case is currently in the midst of consideration for a Petition for Habeas Corpus.  At the same time, attorneys for Mr. Dev have submitted a request to now-outgoing Governor Jerry Brown to commute his sentence.

Yesterday the Marshall Project had a special article on the consideration that Governor Brown makes when considering pardons and clemency in such cases.

That article notes: “Brown’s clemency decisions focus on people facing what the governor seems to view as systemic injustices.”

“It’s a recognition that people can, and do, change—even after committing terrible crimes,” Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, said in a statement. “It’s also a recognition of the radical and unprecedented sentencing increases and prison building boom of the 80s and beyond as well as the diminished role of parole as a vital ingredient in California’s system of sentencing and rehabilitative process.”

Among the people who have received clemency recently: Southeast Asian immigrants who came to the United States as children and who face deportation unless granted a pardon; non-citizen military veterans who were deported for crimes committed after their service; and prisoners serving life without parole, who were given hope of release.

“It really ties in with Brown’s attitude toward criminal justice,” said Anoop Prasad, an attorney who represents a group of Southeast Asian immigrants seeking pardons. “He realizes that California made major mistakes, and he was partly responsible and is trying to walk it back.”

Governor Brown should consider the case of Ajay Dev.  In 2009, Ajay Dev was wrongfully convicted in Yolo County Superior Court of sex crimes against his adopted daughter that resulted in a 378-year prison.  The jury found Ajay guilty of 76 of 92 counts.  The Third District California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment on January 12, 2017.  The timely-filed Petition for Rehearing was denied on February 3, 2017.  The California Supreme Court denied the Petition for Review on April 19, 2017.  Since then new evidence has been submitted as part of a Habeas petition that illustrates Ajay’s innocence.

As noted in the petition as well as numerous Vanguard articles, the key evidence that led to wrongful conviction was a pretext phone call that supposedly corroborated the alleged victim’s testimony.

Hundreds of people assemble in front of the Woodland Courthouse at the five-year anniversary of Mr. Dev’s conviction

Here Judge Timothy Fall erred by allowing the victim to translate the conversation that meandered from English to Nepali. The key statement that the jury relied upon was, “But you had sex with me when you were 18.”

New technology has allowed Ajay’s defense to enhance the audio from that recording.  A Nepali translator listened to the new enhanced recording and has determined that Ajay did not state what the alleged victim claimed.  Instead, Ajay said, “If that (is) so, why did you come with me since 18 years?”

Appellate attorney Cliff Gardner argues: “The prosecutor’s argument that this portion of the pretext phone call constituted an admission that petitioner had sex with [S. Dev] is simply wrong.  In assessing the pretext call, and counsel’s arguments, it is critical for the jurors to have an accurate translation of the pivotal portions of the call.”

Dev’s sons join other protestors in front of the Appellate Court in October 2016

The Habeas petition also presents new evidence that the alleged victim lied.  There is the January 2018 Facebook message the alleged victim’s own sister sent to Ajay Dev’s brother Sanjay: “[AV] want to take revenge and get to Amrika [sic]. . . . The only way to come to Amrika [sic] was to come testify against Ajay uncle. We did not know that he will be put in jail long time. Now AV say that if she helps she will go to jail and get deported. . . . AV has lied many times in the past. She had no choice. Police say to her they will help if AV testify for rape. . . . We know that she was not raped. . . . We also tell AV to tell the truth that this never happen but she scared now.”

The alleged victim (AV) told her cousin Sangita Dev that Mr. Dev neither raped her nor inappropriately touched her.  In 2004, Ms. Dev asked the alleged victim whether “Ajay is raping you?”  To that the AV responded, “Nothing happened.”  “Ajay did not rape or touch her,” she wrote in a declaration.

When Ms. Dev expressed concerns that Ajay Dev would get in trouble, the AV explained, “No, nothing will happen to Ajay.”

Sangita Dev explained that “because the AV was her first cousin she was too scared to initially come forward because she felt like it would be going against her family.  In fact, Sangita’s mother told

Ajay Dev and Vanguard Editor David Greenwald during a December 2017 visit at Mule Creek

her to not to get involved in this ‘family mess’ and to ‘keep my thoughts to myself.’”

The AV told longtime family friend Dinesh Deo about the allegations and “AV explained to him that she believed Ajay and his family had reported her for passport fraud.”

The AV told Mr. Deo “that she would put Ajay in jail like he had put her in jail.”

While it is the belief of many that Mr. Dev was wrongly convicted, from the perspective of the governor, his decision should come down to this: by next summer, Mr. Dev will have already served ten years of the extraordinarily long and unjust 378 prison sentence.  Murderers often are sentenced to far less time and eligible for release far sooner.

Mr. Dev had no prior criminal record and the record indicates Mr. Dev “Ajay is a role model inmate and his record affirms he is the type of inmate that should be considered for commutation of sentence.”

Mr. Dev said “Ajay had no previous record and was never accused of any wrongdoing.  Before this wrongful conviction, Ajay was a productive citizen.  He was an engineer for the state of California Department of Water Resources.  Ajay was happily married with a child, and another on the way. There are hundreds of people that are willing to speak to his good moral character and many have written letters of support which are attached.  He is a kind, gentle, good man that has helped many in the community as both a leader and volunteer.

“Ajay’s good character stands out at the prison too. Ajay has a perfect record with no incidents.  He is respected by staff, prisoners and leadership at Mule Creek State Prison.  Both the Warden and Assistant Warden fully supported Ajay’s application to be granted contact visitation rights to his minor two sons.”

Governor Brown in his final days of office can right a tremendous and overwhelming injustice in our system by freeing Ajay Dev and allowing his still young sons to experience life with their father.

—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 thoughts on “Commentary: The Case for Commuting the Sentence of Ajay Dev”

    1. Keith O

      https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/index.php

      Send Gov. Brown a message.

      My message:

      I feel Ajay Dev has served more than enough time (10 years) for a crime that is highly in question.  Even if he is truly guilty the crime committed didn’t deserve a lifetime sentence, I feel 10 years has been more than enough time served.  I’m normally a tough law and order type person so for me to ask for this is a huge reversal for my normal position.  This shows  how much I feel the sentence was far too punitive.  Please Gov. Brown, show some compassion and pardon Ajay Dev during this holiday season.

  1. Patty Pursell

    David,

    Thank you so much for your continuing support to fix this wrongful conviction.  It is so scary how long it takes to fix a terrible mistake.  Several people have testified that the accuser said her claims were false, and the accuser’s translation of the phone call has also been shown to be incorrect (there was no admission).

    According to jurors, Ajay was only found guilty because he supposedly admitted to rape on the taped phone call–now this has been proved wrong. The process of overturning this wrongful conviction has already taken 10 years even with this evidence to show the accuser was lying.

    I hope that Governor Brown will take a close look at Ajay’s case and come to realize that he is deserving of a commutation of sentence.  378 years makes absolutely no sense–especially when the new evidence supports his innocence.

    1. Howard P

      he supposedly admitted to rape

      Key word, “supposedly”… the translation by others (the b-word) is/was ‘suspect’…

      Will not go into my gut feelings about the veracity of the accuser, but if I were to oppose someone’s “immigration status”, or “path to citizenship”, she’d be my ‘poster child’…

      Not 3 in 5000 folk @ the Mexican Border have been as questionable as she to US entry, path of citizenship, as she… IMO…

      She has apparently used “victim” status to gain entry… based on her own testimony/translation… I would not be grieved if she was deported, on the next jet… she appears not to even deserve incarceration in the US…  a true “troll” and opportunist… again, IMO.

      Dev, if he cannot be exonerated, should get both commutation, and ‘pardon’… just my opinion… he should not be a ‘felon’, nor ‘sex offender’…

  2. lartgroup

    David,

    Thank you for posting this article. I know the both side of families and it’s sad how it ended. Here we had parent who didn’t have their own child then and didn’t quiet know how to deal with new and almost teen age kid, the daughter they have adopted. The daughter was very ambitious and foolish. She came from poor family (Nepal) where didn’t have much structured growing. Didn’t know the western culture, very foreign to affluent living in America, ended up hanging out with people locally who were jealous of Ajay and Peggy’s successful life style. Didn’t hesitate to bring this family down by misguiding the young mind. This girl has brought out her courageous and ambitious true nature in very short time in America. She started massive fire and the parent (Ajay and Peggy) didn’t quiet know how to put out correctly. At the end, it resulted 378 years prison term. Now it’s been 10 years, two young buys haven’t been able to play with their dad. Ajay was very involved in the community and I am not sure everyone but I believe, 95% of our community missed him very much. I hope Governor Brown gives serious consideration to this case.

    Gary Giri

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