By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – A few days before Thanksgiving, San Francisco defense lawyer Juliana Drous filed new pleadings here asking Sacramento Superior Court to vacate the murder conviction of her client, Nicole Carroll – Drous originally filed the paperwork in early January 2019, just days after a new law went into effect that could free Carroll.
But here in California’s capital city, most things have – or appear to have – at least a little to do with politics.
SB 1437, which became law in January of 2019, restricts who can be charged with felony murder. The driver of a getaway car, for instance, cannot now be charged with murder if an accomplice kills someone, unless the driver was an active participant in the killing, or ordered it or was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.
In Carroll’s case, she was a participant in an assault of her ex-boyfriend in 2003. But after her accomplices and she ambushed Matthew Seivert in East Sacramento’s Tahoe Park, with the intent to “beat up” Seivert, things went bad – three gunshots took the teen’s life.
According to Drous’ filings, the group was intent only on “beating up the ‘white boy’ to ‘teach him a lesson’ about using racial slurs” against Asians. Carroll had been dating an Asian and Seivert had made, she said, several anti-Asian racial slurs, which she told her new boyfriend, Chan (John) Lam.
“Carroll said she wanted Seivert beaten up because she did not like him,” according to court documents, and the group “intended to approach Seivert from behind, hit him a couple of times and smash his car with the nunchakus. However, killing or shooting Seivert was not explicitly discussed.”
But under SB 1437’s intent, that’s not enough to convict Carroll of murder now, and because the law is retroactive, it is grounds to have that conviction vacated. Lawyers have been petitioning the courts throughout CA this past year to have client re-sentenced.
Drous, in fact, has asked that the action to vacate be “expedited” and Carroll be re-sentenced and probably released for time served.
The Sacramento District Attorney’s Office vehemently disagrees, noting in a filing opposing Drous’ motion that “Defendant Carroll was the reason that this incident occurred. Defendant expressed her intention to have the victim beaten because she did not like him…Carroll knew that a deadly weapon would likely be brought to the planned altercation
“After the shooting…Carroll’s demeanor and attitude after the shooting was callous. She smiled and said something like ‘oh well, I didn’t like him anyways.’ Defendant Carroll is responsible for this murder under a theory of implied malice. She could be convicted today under that theory,” argued the DA.
But Drous’ pleading noted that “It is certain that Ms. Carroll could not be convicted of first or second
degree murder following the amendment of Penal Code sections 188 and 189 because the assault on Mr. Seivert is not a listed predicate offense. Ms. Carroll’s eligibility for relief under the new Penal Code statutes is therefore clear.”
The Sacramento DA also has written that SB 1437 is unconstitutional because “(1) the statute improperly amends Propositions 7; (2) the statute improperly amends Proposition 115; (3) the statute violates Proposition 9; and (4) the statute violates the separation of powers doctrine.”
However, in her filing in late November, Drous pointed out that earlier in the month “in the first published appellate court opinions concerning the constitutionality of SB 1437, the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected each of the arguments the district attorney has made in Ms. Carroll’s case.”
Carroll is now waiting for a new court date – probably in early 2020 – to determine if her arguments, through attorney Drous, will get her murder sentence vacated.
But there is an interesting twist. A political one.
The sentence of Hung Ly, the shooter, was commuted this year and he now can be paroled as early as 2021. Previously he faced life in prison without possibility of parole.
And, Chan “John” Lam, who admitted he planned the attack on Seivert to impress his girlfriend – Carroll – has had his sentence commuted, while Carroll struggles to gain her freedom.
Lam’s commutation has a bit of political tarnish on it because his brother-in-law is former Assembly Speaker and Democrat Anthony Rendon, who married Lam’s sister Annie in 2014.
Last year, Rendon says he handed a packet of information to then-Gov. Brown and Democrat about his brother-in-law, Lam, and Brown commuted Lam’s sentence.
Lam, to his credit, had an impressive stint in his 16 years in prison, collecting high school and college degrees, and never getting in trouble.
But those involved, Lam and his sister, and Rendon haven’t responded to suggestions Lam got out early in part because of his political connections, or because he earned it and California’s mass incarceration age is coming to an end.