Judge Reduces Bail for Former Prison Guard Charged with Murder for Running Over Son

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By Mia Machado 

SACRAMENTO, CA – A former state prison guard—charged with first degree murder by purposely running over and killing his son—had his bail reduced to just $100,000 earlier this month because the judge here in Sacramento County Superior Court believed the man is not a threat to public safety.

Judge Patrick Marlette agreed to set Reynaldo Espinoza’s bail at $100,000, stating that if you “parse through the drama of a father killing his son,” the defendant no longer poses a risk to the public.

The 62-year-old defendant is charged with murder after allegedly hitting his adult son with a car in the parking lot of a strip mall, causing his death.  His preliminary hearing is May 24.

Assistant Public Defender David Sampson requested that Judge Marlette set Espinoza’s bail at $100,000, an amount he believed his client could pay to be released. Citing the defendant’s 62 years without a history of violence or criminality—other than a decade-old DUI—Attorney Sampson stated that his defendant poses no risk to the public.

Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker, however, while admitting that the defendant lacks a violent past, asserted that he “took the life of his own flesh and blood.”

DA Asker disagreed with the characterization of the facts of the incident, calling it “a very purposeful act.” He requested that Espinoza be held in custody without bail.

After Judge Marlette explained the limitations of holding a non-violent defendant without bail and the relevance of the recent California Supreme Court decision on cash bail, he agreed to set Espinoza’s bail at $100,000.

Attorney Sampson explained that, in addition to lacking any significant violent or criminal history, Espinoza has proved to be a “productive member of our society.”

The defendant, who is a U.S. veteran, served in the Air Force for four years before becoming a correctional officer at California Dept. of Corrections for more than 12 years.

After also holding multiple jobs such as a teaching assistant in Sacramento, and working for the Attorney General’s office, Espinoza began receiving disability after contracting diabetes.

Espinoza has been married to his wife for over 18 years, and holds positive relationships with all three of his surviving children.

Attorney Sampson asserted that the defendant has a large support system and that “were it not for Covid-19 circumstances, this courtroom would be… crowded with family and people from the community who support” him.

“I believe some of them are watching on Zoom as we speak,” he added.

Attorney Sampson also disclosed to the court the “complicated relationship” that the defendant had with his adult son, the alleged victim. Sampson said that the son was “at times violent” with the defendant, including the evening prior to the incident.

Attorney Sampson explained that the defendant’s son became upset after learning that, earlier in the week, the defendant and his wife had made contact with the son’s children that he was legally prohibited from interacting with.

The defendant had requested to meet with his son to discuss his frustrations. The two agreed to meet at a restaurant because his son was no longer welcome at the defendant’s home following previous threats and “acts of violence.” After the two met to talk and the discussion “became argumentative,” the defendant left in his car.

However, as attorney Sampson explained, “when they would argue or fight—the fighting being with the son—before they left, they would get back together and talk it out.” The two “would tell each other they loved each other and they would be okay again,” Sampson explained.

On this occasion, the defendant left without doing that.

“When he got a little ways away, he decided to return… to leave on good terms,” Sampson said. When he returned, the alleged victim, his son, was now in the parking lot of a strip mall. His son was coming toward the defendant on foot, and the defendant ran into him. “That accident, or act, caused his death,” Sampson said.

After requesting for Judge Marlette to agree to post bail at an amount his defendant could make, attorney Sampson emphasized that Espinoza “is simply not a violent man; he is a stable member of our community.”

DDA Asker responded to attorney Sampson’s comments, stating that he disagreed with his characterization of the facts.

“There was an argument, there’s no doubt about that,” Asker agreed, but “what happened next is that the defendant got into his car and drove, on purpose, into his son.”

Citing the findings of the collision expert, DDA Asker said that Espinoza “got up to a speed of about 25 mph, maybe more” before hitting his son. The victim “flew some 40 feet, into the air and landed.” The defendant kept driving, drove past him, “again supporting the idea that this was intentional.”

DDA Asker also explained that there were witnesses who saw the incident occur, and “said there was no way this was an accident,” but in fact the very opposite. “Everything that’s been said by witnesses as well as physical evidence indicated that this was a purposeful, murderous act,” DDA Asker said.

DDA Asker admitted that “it’s true he doesn’t have other criminal history, but he took the life of his own flesh and blood—his own son.” He stated that Espinoza is “certainly someone who is completely out of control.

“He’s supposed to protect his children, even at this late day in his life, and now he has taken his son’s life,” Asker said. The biological mother of his son “is obviously watching this” and “a big part of the family is devastated because they lost a brother, a son, and a relative,” Asker added.

DDA Asker explained that the characterization in Espinoza’s case, under the California constitution, calls for no bail.

Despite the California Supreme Court’s Humphrey decision, which mandates that judges consider a defendant’s ability to post bail, DA Asker asserted that Espinoza’s case is “one of those violent, felonious acts, where you just have to protect the public.

“This individual is so impulsive, that on a given day he will kill his own son by driving a car, some 25 mph into him,” he said. Asker maintained his request to hold Espinoza in custody with no bail.

After hearing DDA Asker’s constitutional argument, Judge Marlette explained that the constitution only permits holding a defendant without bail in a couple of instances.

No bail applies when a defendant commits a felony with acts of violence, “and there’s clear and convincing evidence that creates a substantial likelihood of great bodily injury.” It can also be used when the defendant has threatened bodily injury and there is “a substantial likelihood that he would carry that out if released.”

Judge Marlette explained that if he can “parse through the drama of a father killing his son, that really kind of cuts both ways.”  He asserted that the defendant’s alleged crime is “obviously very isolated and unlikely to happen again.

“There’s a prior dispute, so I cannot find [the defendant] a danger to the public at this point,” Judge Marlette said.

In light of Humphrey and the Constitutional requirements needed to detain the defendant on no bail, Judge Marlette agreed to set bail at $100,000.

Espinoza will return for the preliminary hearing May 24.

Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Luso-Brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California


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