Commentary: Yolo DA’s Office Takes to Fox News to Push Agenda

Remember when the Yolo DA was touted by local media as being one of the most progressive in the state? That seemed like just two years ago. But now Assistant Chief Deputy DA Melinda Aiello once again is taking to Fox News to push, not for progressive reform, but for traditional tough-on-crime measures and policies.

Earlier this year, she was on there complaining about the Judicial Counsel’s Zero Bail policy, now she is back after a state parole board released a convicted killer out of Yolo County.

That’s Fox News as in the conservative cable news network, guardians for the Trump Presidency, and pretty much the antithesis of anything resembling progressive prosecution.

Terebea Williams, 44 now, was convicted in 2001 of first-degree murder, use of a firearm, carjacking, and kidnapping in the death of 23-year-old Kevin Ruska in Davis. The sister is angry and wanting justice for her little brother.

What we don’t know from this case of course is what has happened over the past 19 years that Williams has served in prison. The crime took place in 1998, and she was just 22.

The governor is of course under pressure to release people who have been incarcerated—but that doesn’t mean they are simply going to release people who are a danger to society.

When we interviewed Chesa Boudin’s office a few weeks ago, he had designated a Deputy DA to review case files at places like San Quentin to see who would be a good candidate for release under PC section 1170(d). That office had at the time we talked with them resentenced at least 15 individuals—many of them who had been sentenced to long sentences and had served years in prison.

On the other hand, the Yolo County DA’s office has only agreed to release a few and has fought pretty much every single parole request.

This week, there was Melinda Aiello on Fox News.

She told them that “as a career prosecutor, I cannot emphasize enough how horrific of a conversation I had to have with Dena’s family to deliver them the shocking news that Terebea Williams was going to be released and that they had absolutely no say in the matter.”

Fox then quotes from Californians for Safety and Justice, calling it “kind of an odd name for a group that really is kind of open to letting these people out of jails.”

The group said, “We’re glad the governor is taking action to release more people. This is absolutely critical for the health and safety of every Californian. Too many people are incarcerated for too long and facilities that spread poor health. Supporting the health and safety of all Californians means releasing people unnecessarily incarcerated and transforming our justice system.”

Aiello responded, “I agree. And I want to emphasize that as prosecutors were absolutely appalled at the lack of transparency at the release decisions that are being made on the state level, CDCR has already released over 10,000 inmates who were convicted and sentenced to what we call a determinant term. They had a determined outdate.”

But she added that “now CDCR has expanded their efforts, and they’re including violent criminals, including murderers, and that’s the situation that we have here with Terebea Williams.”

The host then quoted Melinda Aiello on the zero bail policy where she wrote, “As a society we can never lose sight of the fact that nearly every crime, even those dubbed ‘low level’, has a victim. Simply dismissing a crime as low levels diminishes the very real and life altering impact that these crimes have on victims lives.”

Compare the Yolo DA to San Francisco’s prosecutor who has been working hard to follow the guidelines of public health officials who have warned the state that they need to reduce the prison population in half.

In a recent Op-Ed, Boudin along with Miriam Krinsky of Fair and Just Prosecution noted, “Being confined in a prison or jail should not be a death sentence. Yet, in the context of COVID-19 that is exactly what it has become for far too many.”

They added that in addition to releasing those who are elderly and within six months of their release or otherwise medically vulnerable, “They can accelerate release for individuals already found suitable for parole.”

A parole board has found Williams suitable and the governor signed off on it. Everyone else is flying off the handle with less than full information here.

It wasn’t that long ago when local media and people in Jeff Reisig’s office were claiming he was among the most progressive prosecutors in the state.

His chief deputy in 2018 wrote, “Reisig is a visionary who is constantly looking for innovative and progressive ways to best serve the public.”

The local paper in endorsing his reelection—that he narrowly won in 2018, wrote, “Despite efforts by those opposed to him to portray him as something that he is not, Reisig is, in fact, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the state.”

But whenever reforms seem to come up, this progressive who is being portrayed as “something that he is not” always seems to side with the status quo, with tough-on-crime approaches that have failed this state and failed this nation and left us with the most incarcerated population in the world.

Now his Assistant Chief Deputy is coming on Fox News to defend their opposition to early releases and zero bail during the pandemic.

—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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35 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    That’s Fox News as in the conservative cable news network, guardians for the Trump Presidency, and pretty much the antithesis of anything resembling progressive prosecution.

    Oh, that Fox News.  I thought maybe it was another Fox News.

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t know. What I know as Robert points out is that a parole board recommended release and the governor approved it. Otherwise we know there is a bad crime that happened 22 years ago when the person was 22.

  2. Robert Canning

    Unfortunately, in cases like this, the first thing that comes up is what the crime was. The article states it right up front. It’s what grabs us and makes us read on. And we don’t find out until much later in the story that the Board of Parole Hearings has recommended parole for Ms. Williams and the Governor has approved the recommendation.

    I worked in CDCR for many years as a clinician. I worked with murderers, rapists, burglars, petty thieves, etc. Often I did not know what crime had brought them to prison. As a mental health clinician it was often irrelevant to the here-and-now of treating mental illness. (Sometimes though, it was part-and-parcel to their mental state.) Often I would know about their programming in prison, their disciplinarians, how many prisons they had been to, but not their crimes. Some inmates I worked with had been in prison, like Ms. Williams, for 20 or more years.

    My point here is that we know little about Ms. Williams from the story – she was convicted of a series of heinous crimes that lead to the death of another person, she was appropriately sentenced to state prison for her crimes, and has done well enough in prison to be recommended for parole by the parole board (with Gov. Newsom’s approval as well).

    From my experience with inmates, she has probably used her time in prison well. She has grown for the past 22 years and he may have earned a school diploma, learned a trade, and most likely had no disciplinarians while in either or both of the female prisons. She has a parole plan that is realistic and doable, she was found low risk to re-offend by the psychologist for the BPH who did a thorough risk assessment, and she’s probably been to the Board more than once. These are things that most people, without some knowledge of prison in California, could not know. It’s more about Ms. Williams’ life than just what her crime was – it’s the case for release.

    The flip side is that the DA has decried this release and the quoted Asst. Deputy DA has said how tough it was to inform the victim’s family of the impending release. The DA called her experience “horrific”. But that’s her spin on Fox News, right? We don’t know much about the family’s response to Ms. Williams’ impending release. The law requires the state to inform victims and their families about release decisions in cases like this. Sometimes families are outraged, sometimes they are re-traumatized. But sometimes they are not. In this case we don’t know. To me, that’s the other context we know little about.

    So it’s good to know more about a case than just the crime. The context matters.

  3. Tia Will

    I would add just one more aspect to Robert’s comment.

    22 years ago, we understood less about maturational brain changes than we do now. We are now aware that the human brain does not reach its full capacity until around the mid 20’s including rational processing of information and impulse control. In some respects, some individuals are very different in their 40’s than they were in their 20’s. I agree with Robert that a person is much more than just their crime.

  4. Ron Glick

    We are told one side and then that side is criticized. Without knowing the other side it is difficult to understand the criticism except to say that David doesn’t like the DA. Robert fills in some of the blanks and thank you for sharing that insight. I assumed she may have a prison record that influenced the decision but are there other factors. Did the pandemic come into play, and if so , how? Without knowing the full record its hard to judge.

    1. David Greenwald

      Her’s the criticism Ron Glick:

      1. We know that a board and the governor signed off on this – they had to have some reason
      2. Instead of giving us a reason the DA has gone on FOx News, politicized this, and mau-maued the decision.

      You don’t see that as a problem? It’s not like it is being handled in a delicate and reasonable way by the DA’s office. They opened both barrels and appealed to the core base instincts rather than engaging in reasonable disagreement.

      1. Richard McCann

        Ron O

        David directly answered the critique. As your usual MO, only people that you deemed fully qualified are actually allowed to express a legitimate opinion. You always personalize your criticism, always insuating financial motives to anyone who opposes your “pure” opinions. This is getting very tiresome. Please directly address the issue rather than attacking the individual making the statement.

        1. Ron Oertel

          David directly answered the critique.

          What “critique”?  And, what “response”?

          As your usual MO, only people that you deemed fully qualified are actually allowed to express a legitimate opinion.  You always personalize your criticism, always insuating financial motives to anyone who opposes your “pure” opinions. This is getting very tiresome. Please directly address the issue rather than attacking the individual making the statement.

          I can only assume that you’re directing that at the “other” Ron.

           

  5. Nora Oldwin

    Adding to the discussion about crime/victims of crime, I recommend the most recent edition of the New York Review of Books in which there is a very insightful review of one called “Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair” by Danielle Sered (the reviewer is Michelle Kuo, who wrote “Reading with Patrick”, another good one). “Until We Reckon” is a book discussing the uses of Restorative Justice. It takes Robert’s points to heart- that we, the public, do not know- are not told! the stories behind the crime, behind the persons involved in the crime or about the person who committed the crime- we are only told the facts of the crime; usually the facts are awful. That’s why they are crimes! And of course we all recoil. But. . . ..This book points out that the Restorative Justice model is what we should turn to as it is beneficial for the victims, allowing them to heal from trauma in contrast to  the punitive model which requires continuing trauma, including horrific conversations with victims, upon a prisoner’s release.

    It seems to me that, if the District Attorney were really serious about providing healing to victims, and genuinely believes that those who have suffered trauma deserve to heal, then it follows that we need to know more about the people who commit crimes. This is Robert’s point, or one of them. As Sered points out, a prison sentence provides no guarantee of resolution for victims of crime. In contrast, Restorative Justice “benefits both victims and defendants. For offenders, discussion nudges them toward a self-respect that their own actions may have undermined. For victims, hearing the defendant explicitly admit fault can help them overcome feelings of fear; the process is based on the admission of guilt as a shared premise. This is not possible in court, where the defendant is instructed by his lawyer to minimize or explicitly deny his crime. Sered notes that 90 percent of victims invited to participate in her program choose to do so, and less than 6 percent of defendants have left the program due to new convictions for a crime.”it may well be that Terebea Williams was a victim, too:  ‘ “There is no bright line between victims and offenders”, writes sociologist Bruce Western, who found, in a survey of people released from prison in Boston, that ’40 percent. . . . had witnessed someone being killed, nearly half were beaten by their parents. . . 16 percent reported being sexually abused, and half said they had been “seriously injured. . . growing up”. Sered puts it plainly: “Almost no one’s entry point into violence is committing it”.’ In this light, the Yolo DA’s professed interest in restorative justice should have provided a basis for his office to applaud the release of someone who had been deemed by others to be ready for release. It would have eliminated the necessity of a horrific conversation; it could have promoted healing for everyone involved. I urge everyone who reads this to become more informed about how the Restorative Justice model is used elsewhere and how it affects everyone- defendants, victims, their lawyers. . . . and last but not least, the public, who reads about these cases.

    1. David Greenwald

      You raise a good point Nora. Basically the victim is angry. The deed is done. It’s not coming back. So you can either make the victim more angry – which to be what they are doing. Or you can provide the victim with ways that they might be able to overcome their anger. The DA is not interested in going down that path it seems. It’s better to go on Fox News and rant.

  6. Rick Entrikin

    This so-called report, or “journalism” as David Greenwald likes to call it, is yet  another example of how a blogger can use only part of a story to promote their own agenda.  In this case, Greenwald completely ignores the part of the Fox interview with the victim’s family, as part of his ongoing crusade to discredit DA Reisig and, now, even Assistant DA, Aiello.

    And by “victim,” I’m referring to the totally-innocent young man, who was car-jacked, brutally assaulted, stuffed in his own car trunk and driven around for hours, before being tied to a hotel chair, where he finally bled to death, in Davis.   I am not referring to the convicted murderer, who was sentenced to life in prison (86 years as I recall) and is now free, once again, to do as she pleases.

    I am not an expert on criminal justice in any way, but I do know that it’s become a long stretch from the original concept of releasing some “non-violent” prisoners, ostensibly to protect them from Covid-19, to releasing convicted murderers.  In fact, I believe Ms Williams was one of two violent murderers released the same day by Governor Newsom.   Robert Canning apparently has a great deal of experience in prison settings and here’s what he said about the “other side of the story,” that Greenwald does not even mention in his opinionated blog:

    “The law requires the state to inform victims and their families about release decisions in cases like this. Sometimes families are outraged, sometimes they are re-traumatized. But sometimes they are not. In this case we don’t know. To me, that’s the other context we know little about.”

    If David Greenwald had wanted to present an objective, balanced report of DA Aiello’s interview, he could easily have done that by watching and listening to what the family’s representative had to say during her terribly sad and emotional interview that accompanied the Aiello interview.  I saw them both.

    The sister of the murdered young man, told about how devastated their entire family was over the release of her brother’s murderer.  She spoke of how the pending release of Ms. Williams had traumatized the family by reopening the wounds of her brother’s murder and how the family was being forced to relive the horrific details of the murder.   She spoke of his kindness, his promise and his goodness, while stating repeatedly that the murderer had never shown any remorse and had not even once, said that she was sorry.  THAT is the part of the story that Greenwald chose to ignore.

    1. David Greenwald

      First of all Rick – this was clearly labeled commentary which means it is my opinion.

      Second, I didn’t ignore the victim. I watched the full segment. I didn’t flesh it out – I did note that the sister is angry at the decision.

      I find it ironic that you are accusing me of bias when the Fox segment was completely biased and I was merely providing another perspective. The comments by the commentator were far more biased than my commentary. At least I labeled mine as opinion.

      1. Rick Entrikin

        OK, I think I get it now.   You are the founder of The Vanguard, you frequently self-describe as a “journalist” and you describe The Vanguard as journalism.  But, when you put your writings under the word “Commentary,” you can then ignore the other side of the story because it’s not really journalism.

        As to your claim that “I didn’t ignore the victim,” I disagree (as a matter of opinion).  Nevertheless, you stated as a fact that you watched the “full segment” of the interview.  Yet all you could write to illuminate the other side of the story was “the sister is angry at the decision.”  You should be embarrassed.  How on earth can you disrespect and disregard the feelings of the murdered man’s family in such a cavalier manner?

        And, then, this:

        “I did find it ironic that you are accusing me of bias when the Fox segment was completely biased and I was merely providing another perspective.”

        Yes, David, my opinion is that you are biased in your reporting when it has anything to do with the Yolo County DA’s office.  And, in terms of the specific issue of releasing convicted murderers under the guise of protecting inmates from Covid-19, which was the point of the Fox segment, you chose to focus instead on criticizing the Assistant DA and, by extension, DA Reisig.

        Finally, Assistant DA Aiello did not go on Fox News and “rant,” as you claim (opinion).   She was very professional, very knowledgeable (opinion) and, yes, emotional about having to tell the family of a murdered young man that his killer had been freed (fact).

      2. Alan Miller

        The comments by the commentator were far more biased than my commentary.

        [Letterman:  “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction”; Miller:  “The above sentence needs no commentary”.]

  7. Richard McCann

    The purpose of our justice system is NOT retribution. Retribution leads to cycles of violence. That’s why we have civilization, to mitigate violence. If we had a justice system focused on retribution, we would just let the victims personally pummel or kill the violator.

    Our justice has a larger purpose to provide deterrence, removal and rehabilitation. The Asst. DA has lost sight of that larger purpose and has fallen back into the more base emotional need for retribution that we as a society are trying to repress.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Should Leslie Van Houten be paroled?

      Well, she was ~20 when the crimes were committed… her brain wasn’t fully formed yet…

      Sirhan Sirhan was 24… so, on the cusp…

      A local kid was 15…

      Not my arguments, those of others…

      Good question, tho’…

       

      1. David Greenwald

        I really don’t understand why they wouldn’t parole Van Houten at this point. As I understand it, Sirhan Sirhan should actually be in a mental institution, not a prison.

  8. Nora Oldwin

    The more abstract issue raised by Rick Entrikin’s posts is worth examining, I think, as applied to what David does with the Vanguard. And that is the question of “objectivity”, also cognizable as ‘disinterested reporting” (I’m assuming that interest in “objectivity” comes from a value judgement that what is more “objective” is more “true” (and conversely, that what is “subjective” is less “true”.) I’m also assuming that the argument is that David’s reporting, because not “objective” (in other words: treating all cognizable sides of an issue “equally” and “disinterestedly”) is therefore somehow disingenuous, or is misleading, or  is less than truthful, because it is instead “subjective”.  And the underlying premise here is that David should, or even could, offer disinterested statements with respect to political matters or really any matters he reports on. The Vanguard purports to offer information, some based in facts such as dates and times; others based on value judgements about those facts. Terry Eagelton, who (among other things) is a literary critic, says the following: “Facts are public and unimpeachable, values are private and gratuitous. There is an obvious difference between recounting a fact such as “This cathedral was built in 1612”, and registering a value judgement such as “This cathedral is a magnificent specimen of baroque architecture.” . . . .Statements of fact are after all statements, which presumes a number of questionable judgements: that those statements are worth making, perhaps more worth making than certain others, that I am the sort of person entitled to make them and perhaps able to guarantee their truth, that you are the kind of person worth making them to, that something useful is accomplished by making them, and so on. . . . . In this sense, there is no possibility of a wholly disinterested statement. . . . It is not just as though we have something called factual knowledge which may then be distorted by particular interests and judgements, although this is certainly possible; it is because we would not see the point of bothering to get to know anything. Interests are constitutive of our knowledge, not merely prejudices which imperil it. The claim that knowledge should be “value-free” is itself a value-judgement.”

    If we accept Eagleton’s descriptions of statements as value judgements, then it seems to me that those who object to David’s statements are really taking issue with his value judgements.  Rather than focus on “objective” versus “subjective”, couldn’t we have some sort of round table discussion about the issues we all seem to be really concerned about? Some of which seem to me to deal with fairness in our society- why we don’t have it/why it doesn’t exist presently, what it might look like if we didn’t have all these other competing aspects of humanity such as the striving for power and wealth to name just one?  I don’t think the question is whether David “dislikes” Reisig; I think he has values that differ from Reisig’s. And maybe we should be discussing what those are and how they come to divide us so strongly?

    1. Ron Oertel

       I don’t think the question is whether David “dislikes” Reisig; I think he has values that differ from Reisig’s. And maybe we should be discussing what those are and how they come to divide us so strongly?

      The issue (regarding David’s “reporting”) is that it is often purposefully divisive, with a willingness to slam those he doesn’t agree with. He also establishes a particular tone, which is then “picked up” by other commenters.

      An example of this is his focus on what one commenter said regarding students, while not acknowledging some of their comments. (Ultimately, with neither of these type of comments being very important.)

      Not unlike what occurs in our larger political system.

    2. Ron Oertel

      But the other (more substantive issue) might be related to this:

      couldn’t we have some sort of round table discussion about the issues we all seem to be really concerned about?

      That may mean different things, to different people.

      And, blogs such as this one don’t encourage this. Instead, it just turns into a political battleground, as established by the “tone” at the top.

       

  9. Rick Entrikin

    I am not interested in debating abstract concepts or philosophical interpretations of the deeper meaning of my writings.   If anyone wants to know what I wrote, and what I meant to write, just read my statements above.

    Having said that, I do believe that David did exercise poor judgement in the above Commentary. He stated that he watched the entire Fox segment (his “fact”),  about the early release of a convicted murderer and the impact of that release on the victim’s family.   But, instead of addressing the overarching issue of releasing violent criminals into society during the pandemic, David’s values compelled him to write:

    Basically the victim is angry. The deed is done. It’s not coming back. So you can either make the victim more angry – which to be what they are doing. Or you can provide the victim with ways that they might be able to overcome their anger. The DA is not interested in going down that path it seems. It’s better to go on Fox News and rant.

    I do agree with David here: “The deed is done. It’s not coming back.”  The totally innocent 23-year-old man, who was brutally murdered, stuffed in the trunk of his car and, finally, tied to a chair and left to bleed to death in a Davis motel is not coming back.  But the other victim’s, the young man’s sister and family, now have to relive all of those horrific memories and feelings, because his murderer has come back – on the streets of California – free again.

    1. David Greenwald

      What I’m referring to Rick is engaging in a restorative process to help the victim heal. It’s interesting that the DA if you ask him would point to Neighborhood Court as his greatest accomplishment. And yet he never considers the possibility of extending restorative justice to cases like this where the victim’s family needs healing. Instead, his contribution is simply to make people more angry. They go on Fox News and rail against the system. I don’t see that as helpful. None of us have before us the information that the governor and parole board had.

  10. Dena Love

    It’s disheartening that victims and their families are continually re-victimized by the CDCR and governor Newsom. Our family is not the only victims in this travesty. I am heart-broken for the citizens of California who are being subjected to criminals – both violent & non-violent – being released back into society before their debt is paid.

    We were promised by the court that Terebea Williams would serve 84 years to life in prison. We fully never expected her to be released – until her death. She has now only served 19 years – less time than my brother was ALIVE! Is it fair that she can now live a life outside of prison and enjoy everything that she took away from Johnny? No! Is it fair that a convicted murderer is walking around San Jose amongst innocent people? No! Is it fair that we have to live without my brother? NO!

    I have spent the last 22 years slowly trying to mend my crushed heart. Watching my grandparents deteriorate before my eyes. Taking care of my mother by myself. Witnessing my father’s grief that brings me to my knees in prayer. And now, we are brought right back to those feelings of helplessness and anger and despair and sadness. Where is Johnny’s justice? She took his life – brutally and sadistically. He was shot in the stomach while in the trunk of his car and was left there for 12 HOURS. She drove him right by the town he was born and raised in – right by his family. She is a cold-hearted killer and NEVER should have been released.

    #nojusticeforjohnny #terebeawilliamsisamurderer #shameonyou #gavinnewsom #cdcr

    1. Alan Miller

      I’ll assume from your post that, as the sister of this murder victim, and a living-victim of the murder, you disagree with the opinion of the Davis Vanguard.  While I am not against all justice-system reform, I’m not sure why the Vanguard would so cold-heatedly dismiss the wishes and feelings of the living-victims of this crime.  If anyone should have a say, it is the family of the murder victim.

      That is why Debra Tate, Sharon Tate’s sister, has not missed a parole hearing for a convicted Manson follower, such as Leslie Van Houten, in half a century.  It is practically her much-unwanted full-time job for life.  But should family members be forced to work that hard for the justice for their loved-ones and themselves in which they believe?  Should restorative justice or super-early-release be forced on them if it does not fit their value system or their sense of justice for the death of a family member?  Maybe restorative justice should be an alternative, but never the foundation for a new system of justice, and always at the discretion of the victim-family.

      This post by Dena Love underscores just how extremist, out-of-touch, off-the-rails and into-the-ditch the Davis Vanguard is on these issues.  While I’d been reading more of the articles on justice reform and considering, this case turned me off cold.  I’ll be reading and caring less what the Vanguard has to say on this matter, for the next few years, like maybe the next 19 years.

    2. Keith Olsen

      Thank you Dena for sharing your story.  I agree, everything is upside down these days with more empathy now being shown towards violent criminals than the victims of their heinous crimes.  I feel for you loss and how your family has to now suffer through that ordeal again.

      I also agree with everything Alan wrote.  The Vanguard is out of touch on many of these issues.

    1. Dena Love

      Thank you Amy! I appreciate your support. I never – ever – expected to be in this position.

      As someone who has worked with domestic violence victims and survivors, I know you to be compassionate. My brother did not deserve any kind of label associated with DV – he was loving and giving and would defend anyone being bullied or harrassed. The thought that he would have hurt a woman in any way is incomprehensible to me. His murderer is using her PAST abuse, before she ever knew Johnny, as the reasons why she killed him. It’s outrageous!

      I’m dumbfounded that the blogger would not reach out to me or another family member to get the full picture.

      1. Alan Miller

        I’m dumbfounded that the blogger would not reach out to me or another family member to get the full picture.

        I’m sure they will now . . .

        Well . . . . . maybe?

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