By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – There is no doubt, the crime that occurred here in Davis in 2013 was a horrifying and senseless crime. The fact that it was a 15-year-old, raised in Davis and who attended our schools, only made it more terrifying.
But as the Third Appellate Court is set to hear arguments over whether Marsh, who is now in his early 20s, should be released at the age of 25 under new laws that preclude juveniles under 16 to be sentenced as adults, the law also allows a prosecutor to ask a judge to hold people longer if their release would endanger public safety.
That is just one reason why this campaign seems troubling and inappropriate to me. As I have stated many times over the last eight years now, I think we need to look more carefully at some of the rhetoric here.
Leading the way on this is Crime Victims United, a powerful voice that has helped to steer many states, including California, to take a more punitive approach to law enforcement.
The group came together with the family, other Yolo County Crime Victims and, of course, the Yolo County DA’s victims services to create the group “Hear Us YOLO.”
“This coalition will ensure the voice of the victim is heard, that the rights of the victim are upheld and that we bring back balance in the legislature,” said Nina Salerno, president of Crime Victims United, at the Friday morning news conference at Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
DA Reisig, speaking at the press conference held in his offices, said that this group wants to “make sure the voices of victims are heard loudly and clearly.”
He added, “It seemed victims’ voices and rights haven’t been heard or considered.”
From the family, is Maupin’s eldest daughter Victoria Hurd along with her daughter Sarah Rice.
“If he wins this appeal on Aug. 18, he could be out on the streets of Davis as early as May 14, 2022,” she said. “He will be unsupervised, without parole, and his record will be sealed.
“This will be my family’s third hearing and I’m standing here before you today because as traumatizing as it is for my family and those who were close to my mother and Chip, this dangerous law directly affects your families,” Hurd said. “There will be a clinically diagnosed psychopath who has gruesomely murdered not one but two people and admitted to finding it exhilarating, walking free.”
The family of the victims—Claudia Maupin and Oliver “Chip” Northup—no doubt went through one of the most horrifying experiences that you can imagine. But is a social media campaign the way to do it?
One of the questions I have is whether Chip Northup himself would have approved of this campaign. Northup spent his career as a defense attorney, he was a stanch opponent of the death penalty, and he even attended our 2012 Death Penalty event in Woodland. Early in the process his son made a public statement to the effect that his father would have been the first to have defended this kid.
Another concern of mine is the role of the DA’s office in this matter.
“Hear Us YOLO” has a page on the YoloDA.org website and describes the purpose: “The purpose of Hear Us YOLO is to empower survivors in educating the public about victimization, terminology and resources. Putting victim awareness and issues on the forefront.”
“I strongly support balanced criminal justice reform that reduces recidivism and advances public safety — and this can only be accomplished when crime victims are a fundamental part of the process, when their voices are heard and their rights upheld,” said DA Jeff Reisig. “This is why providing steadfast victims advocacy ranks high on my office’s Bill of Values, and why we created Hear Us YOLO.”
“Hear Us YOLO” is under the direction of Crime Victims United as well as the DA’s Victim Advocates Unit.
Applications are in fact sent to Victim Services Program Manager, Laura Valdes, using her county email address.
Is this the proper role of a DA’s office, particularly going public on a case that will argued in five days before a court? Is the DA involved in an ex-parte manner of attempting to influence the decision of that appellate court? Is that itself proper?
Finally, I worry about the demonization of Marsh himself.
One of Hurd’s comments yesterday struck me—his record will be sealed. And that might be a concern about some juvenile offenders, but a quick Google search of Marsh reveals that no matter of sealing his records will undo the tremendous volume of records portraying his crime in graphic details. No need to worry about that issue.
There is a good deal of amateur psychology going on in the community.
Hurd, for instance, called him “a clinically diagnosed psychopath.”
That has been a common refrain—he tortured his victims, was exhilarated. There are claims he showed psychopathic tendencies and was seen as an aspiring serial killer.
During the trial, a psychiatrist diagnosed Marsh with severe depression and anxiety. Forensic psychologist and psychopathy expert Matthew Logan said Marsh is a psychopath, scoring 35.8 out of 40 on the Psychopathy Checklist.
James Rokop, another psychologist, testified that Marsh was a sexual sadist who killed solely to gratify himself.
But there is a lot we don’t know about this stuff. Several other examining physicians disagreed. Dr. Merikangas for instance, a neuropsychiatrist and neurologist, found there was no evidence that Marsh suffered from anti-social or sexual sadism.
It is easy with a vicious and senseless crime to project our worst fears, but we are talking about a person who was 15 years old at the time of his act.
Even Dr. Hare, who developed the psychopathy checklist, warned in his book it is hard to make an accurate assessment and one shouldn’t try to do it without extensive training.
Plus—is this a permanent condition? Everyone is treating it like it is. But as Merikangas testified at trial, Marsh had manic depressive disorder, dissociative disorder, de-personalization, among other things—and in addition to mental illness and violent thoughts, Marsh was detached from both parents.
In 2018, Daniel Marsh had an extensive hearing to determine if he was suitable for release under Prop. 57. While Judge McAdam ruled that he was not, in an 18-page finding, he made several findings of interest.
One of the more interesting aspects of it was the role of Dr. Soulier, who diagnosed Marsh in 2013, was threatened by Marsh who said he would kill him and as a result, he terminated his examination.
Writes Judge McAdam, “Dr. Soulier is the only medical expert before the Court, who actually interviewed Marsh for this hearing, which he did towards the end of July 2018, as reflected in his second report dated September 17, 2018.
“Thus, Dr. Soulier can actually compare the 2013 Daniel Marsh to the 2018 Daniel Marsh—no other expert can.”
Judge McAdam also makes some other very pertinent findings.
Dr. Logan testified that Marsh scored 35.8 out of 40 on the PCL-R scale for criminal psychopathy. He testified that “a person of Marsh’s profile virtually cannot be rehabilitated.”
While there is some research supporting this generalized conclusion, it is also true, as the judge points out, that Dr. Logan did not personally interview Marsh. Moreover, he conceded that “some of the factors that make up the PCL-R are dynamic and that retesting a juvenile as he matures would be a helpful risk assessment tool.”
Further, he warned in his testimony that this is not designed to be a risk assessment tool.
The judge notes that Dr. Logan does not use PCL-R when assessing the risk of recidivism, he used three different tools—none used in this case.
Writes Judge McAdam: “[F]rom what we know about the development of the brain between childhood and adulthood, that understanding further warrants caution when relying heavily on a PCL-R conducted in 2015 at the age of 18. There is no question that the crimes here were committed by a psychopath who was also suffering a mental illness.”
McAdam adds, “The more difficult question is whether he is still a psychopath with criminal desires and whether that personality trait can be rehabilitated.”
Importantly, he also points out that both experts testified that most psychopaths are not criminals.
Thus McAdam, concludes in 2018, “The claim that Marsh is a dangerous psychopath is not dispositive here.”
What he finds more important is the understanding of the scope of the individualized rehabilitation in this case. His thoughtful analysis showed concern that the trauma experienced could be a trigger, and asked, “what happens when he is not in a controlled setting?” He adds, “This is where the fragile psyche is a concern.”
The judge ultimately found, “Based on the record before the Court and given that he has not addressed the main traumas in his life at all in the five years since the crime, there is virtually no chance that Marsh will be rehabilitated before he turns 25 years old—it is certainly not a likelihood.”
However, upon observing the testimony of Marsh, he said, “The court did not find him to be making any effort to manipulate or mislead the Court in any way.”
The judge found he had made since progress, but that “it all falls far short, given the enormity of the problem—namely, a fragile emotional condition that can be triggered by events that others can simply resolve with therapy and support.”
I can also say that Marsh, who is serving in Donovan, is in a place with some individuals that the Vanguard has been working with. What I have basically heard is that Marsh hardly resembles the person that he has been portrayed as in the media.
While I think people will tend to discount this point, remember that incarcerated people generally have a good sense for whether something is an act or sincere.
The whole point of having a juvenile justice wing of the criminal legal system is the acknowledgement that juveniles are not merely mini-versions of adults. Their brain development up until 25 years of age is not complete. Add in a whole bunch of mental health diagnoses and you have a recipe for trouble.
But with treatment, work, and maturation, that is not necessarily a permanent condition.
None of this is to say that he should be released tomorrow or even at the age of 25, which would be in May of 2022. Prosecutors have the ability to request a judge hold Marsh longer for public safety concerns.
I do believe that this crime warrants additional time, that Marsh still probably has progress to make, and that the community would be uncomfortable and understandably so with his release at this time.
We should make these decisions, however, in an evidence-based manner that takes into account current diagnoses by actual mental health experts—not the understandable pain and suffering of the family, not the attempts to scare the public by the DA, not the extremist rhetoric of Victims United, but rather the sober calculus of experts trying to figure out the best course forward in a case that is anything but typical.
This is the exact time to ramp down the rhetoric, but not raise it up. And this is precisely why I am troubled to see the Yolo DA and Crime Victims United join forces with a still and understandably grieving family to raise the temperature in the room.
I tend to agree overall with Judge McAdam—that Marsh has made good progress from the reports that we have seen, that he continues to face considerable obstacles, that until the courts and professionals are convinced that he has addressed those issues, he remains a potential danger to the public.
Fortunately, AB 1391 does not leave the courts without tools here. They will simply need to rely on current and future diagnoses to guide them—and that’s fine.