Judge Denies Defendant’s Resentence Request for Heinous Murder He Committed as a Teen

By Roselyn Poommai

SACRAMENTO, CA – Frank Abella was a month shy of turning 18 when he was convicted of the murder of a disabled military veteran, and Friday here in Sacramento County Superior Court his defense attorney requested that the court reduce his sentence because he was legally 17 at the time of the offense.

In 2008, an intoxicated Abella and his co-defendant stomped the defenseless veteran into a coma, left the victim to bleed out, and later returned to the scene to shoot him with a BB gun.

From the start, Judge Maryanne G. Gillard was reluctant to grant the defense’s request to reduce his sentence from life without parole to 25 years to life under juvenile jurisdiction.

“When I looked at Mr. Abella back when he was before this court after a jury trial, this is one of the most cruel and heinous murders that I have presided over,” Judge Gillard expressed.

In hopes of reconsideration, Defense Attorney Michael Long proceeded to walk through the defendant’s social history in front of the court.

Long presented that Abella was one of 11 children and bounced around foster homes for most of his youth. His mother, a long-time substance abuser, prenatally exposed Abella to drugs and, by 14, he was regularly abusing drugs and alcohol while they lived together in a drug rehabilitation facility.

Child Protective Services records at the time further indicated that the defendant had been in special education classes since third grade before dropping out of high school freshman year.

Long also noted the defendant had cerebral palsy, caused by a drowning incident when the defendant was two years old. Abella sustained additional brain injuries as a baby when his enraged uncle struck Abella’s head against the door. The defendant’s recorded IQ of 62 signified mild mental retardation.

“When I met Frank at 17 years old, he was fairly illiterate. He spoke in simple sentences; he used simple words. It was clear to me he was poorly educated,” recalled Long.

He then gleamed with passion, “Frank has transformed himself for the better, more than any other client I’ve ever represented since I’ve started defending clients in 1992.”

Long described that for the last 13 years, Abella has spent his time in prison earning his high school GED, taking community college courses, acquiring additional educational certificates, working prison jobs, and counseling others in a similar position.

“All this information tells me that if Frank had decent parents—who paid attention to him, taught him right from wrong, and kept him in school—Frank would be a very successful adult instead of a convicted murderer,” asserted Long.

He continued, “I see a mature man who has improved himself in many ways.”

However, prosecutor Sherry Greco firmly stood by the court’s original sentence and asked the court to deny the resentence request.

She explained that, although Abello’s age allowed his reconsideration as a youthful offender, the aggravating factors of the case heavily outweighed his accomplishments among recent years pointed out by Long.

Prosecutor Greco added that Abella’s childhood trauma and its consequences on his development were not irreparable developmental disabilities that could not be overcome with education.

“This wasn’t a 17-year-old defendant who was suffering from a permanent developmental disability that did not have the ability due to his youthful age to understand right from wrong—to understand the depravity of stomping a man to death, beating a defenseless, disabled man to death, and then torturing him with a BB gun,” Greco explained.

Yet, Defense Attorney Long persisted, noting that at age 17 “people are not set in stone.” Long described Abella as “the poster child for a person who is changing.

“As a juvenile, they still have so much ability to learn and grow. Frank did not have that going for him when he was a juvenile. [The defendant] can’t change his past, but he can change his future.” he proclaimed.

Amid the attorney’s heartfelt advocacy for his client, Judge Gillard was unmoved.

She pointed out that all previous court proceedings had already considered the defendant’s extensive background when imposing his sentence.

“To me, that’s [mitigating evidence] not really a factor that changes what the crime was on the day it was committed, and what he did, and how he minimized it in front of a jury—so that he wasn’t completely truthful,” she said.

Judge Gillard continued, “He had the wherewithal to beat a man into a coma basically, allowed that man to slowly bleed out, and then came back a couple of times with a BB gun and shot him up. I can’t think of a worse crime, in all honesty, than what Mr. Abella did.”

Judge Gillard denied the defense’s request for a sentence modification and reaffirmed the court’s initial sentence of life without parole.

Abella’s parole hearing will be available to him after his 25th year of serving prison time.

Roselyn is a second-year undergraduate double-majoring in Psychological Science and Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. A native of Los Angeles, California, she is passionate about the role of human behavior in the criminal justice system.

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