By David M. Greenwald
Antelope Valley, CA – Andrew Cachu was just shy of his 18th birthday when he shot and killed 41-year-old Louis Amela outside a Palmdale restaurant in March 2015. But because of changes under state law, Prop. 57 passed by the voters in 2016, prosecutors can no longer direct file juvenile cases in adult court—there must be a transfer hearing where the judge makes the determination.
Cachu was sentenced to 50 years in prison but because a juvenile cannot be detained past the age of 25 in California, a two-day hearing was held to determine his status.
In an article in the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News, it was charged that the “prosecutor refused to call witnesses during a disposition hearing, effectively keeping the case in the juvenile court system on orders from District Attorney George Gascón.”
According to their coverage, Kathy Cady, an attorney for the victim’s family, charged that “Judge Brian C. Yep indicated Deputy District Attorney Alisa Blair’s decision not to present any evidence was intentionally aimed at securing Cachu’s release.”
The Vanguard spoke with Los Angeles County Prosecutor Alisa Blair who indicated that her preference was for Cachu to be sent for two years to the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) which has specific programming that she believed to be of benefit to Mr. Cachu.
According to Blair, “The Welfare and Institutions code, which is the governing code for juveniles, allows for what’s called a two year period of control or a two year extension to go to DJJ, regardless of age.
“The short version is that because of DJJ closing in 2023, it’s not fiscally efficient for them to create programs for *older* people who could potentially be referred to DJJ,” Blair explained.
Blair noted that the Probation Department wrote a report for the November 1, 2021 hearing, and “it was very short. The judge called it defective. It of course recommended DJJ for Mr. Cachu, which is what I had been requesting and asking for all along. It said he could benefit from the structure and security of DJJ and he could benefit from their courses, including gang intervention, substance use, but it wasn’t specific enough for the judge.”
The judge asked her to bring in additional evidence or call witnesses.
“I said no, because we all knew in the courtroom that there were no additional witnesses or evidence,” she said.
The judge took the matter under advisement and when he came back, he called the probation report defective and that Blair’s failure to call witnesses was intentional, and at that point, he ruled that he had no choice but to terminate juvenile jurisdiction and release Cachu.
But now he will be released with no services helping Cachu reintegrate into the community.
“I think it would have been more appropriate given the legal posture and the circumstances of the case for him to refer Cachu to DJJ,” Blair said. “DJJ can always reject, traditionally they reject because they don’t have sufficient programming.”
But she believed that that would have been a rare move.
“Even though it’s rare to reject, that’s always, since its inception, been a possibility. So what the judge should have done is refer Cachu to DJJ and then if DJJ rejected him, then there would not have been any other legal options, but to terminate juvenile jurisdiction, but he skipped a step in order to absolve himself of responsibility and try to put it on the DA’s office.”
Could the DA’s office have opted to keep Cachu as an adult in the system?
“Absolutely, there was an option,” she responded. “It was the wrong option. So we didn’t pursue that one.”
Prop. 57 changed the law in two ways. One was it took away the power for the prosecutor to direct file and required that minors go before a juvenile judge and have a hearing and, second, “it also changed how the courts, how the juvenile courts should evaluate that transfer.”
Cachu’s case went back to court to have a transfer hearing to determine whether the case should go to adult court or remain in juvenile court.
Blair said when she looked at the case at the time that the crime occurred, she looked at the five criteria and the presumptions and the law, “should he be transferred to adult (court)? And the answer is no,” she said.
She said this was “based on the facts of the case, based on his criminal history, and based on the characteristics of him.”
Blair explained that “we had no evidence that he would not have been amenable to juvenile rehabilitation services.”
She added, “There’s nothing to say he was a unique or strange antisocial, sociopath, minor who would not have benefited from juvenile services. So analyzing it like that at the time of the offense, the best legal course of action was to keep him in juvenile jurisdiction.”
In opposition is Kathy Cady, who is representing the victim’s family. Cady is a former Los Angeles County prosecutor who told the Orange County paper, “The victim’s family is devastated and feels abandoned by the justice system. They feel that what has happened is not justice.”
According to the paper, “In June, Cady took the unusual step of filing a motion demanding that Yep disqualify Blair from the Cachu case for repeatedly demonstrating that her allegiance firmly lies with defendants and not crime victims and their families.”
The Judge in July denied the request to disqualify Blair.
“Gascón’s blanket policies are unjust and have again resulted in retraumatizing a murder victim’s family and endangering the public,” Cady said. “The primary duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice within the bounds of the law. A prosecutor must avoid even an appearance of impropriety in everything they do.
“Gascón’s hand picked representative, Alisa Blair, never should have handled this case. She has a clear conflict of interest. Blair’s conduct on this case, including assisting the defendant in speaking to the defendant’s mother, ignoring the victim and the victim’s family, and in not presenting evidence at the disposition/sentencing has shown that her commitment was to the defendant. She abandoned her responsibility to seeking justice, protecting the people of Los Angeles County and safeguarding the victims’ rights.”
What the article failed to note is that Kathy Cady has been filing motions of this sort all the time—and has according to the LA District Attorney’s office lost every single time.
The problem is that while Cady can represent the victims, Blair explained, “The law is very clear that victims are not parties to the case.”
Marsy’s Law gives victims a lot of rights under the California Constitution, “but those rights do not include being able to dictate the trajectory of the case or who the attorneys are.”
Only the defense can make a motion to disqualify a prosecutor or recuse a prosecutor if they have cause and the judge agrees.
Thus the judge denied the motion by Cady, but did not “get into whether he felt that the motion had merits.”
Blair added, “There’s absolutely no conflict or no connection between my work as a public defender and these cases, or even my work doing juvenile work as a public defender.”
She continued, “That was a complete lie with regards to Cachu specifically, she made allegations that really aren’t legal allegations—or really weren’t things that were unlawful or inappropriate.”
Cady charged that Blair didn’t speak to the victims in the hallway on her first appearance, but “I didn’t know who they were” and in times of COVID it is even more difficult to identify people when it was challenging, even under the best of circumstances.
Moreover, some might argue that Blair is not the only one that should be examined here for conflicts.
Cady’s law office consists of people like former Deputy DA Sam Dordulian who are spearheading the recall against Gascón. So while Cady is quick to charge conflict against Gascón and Blair, others might see Cady as the one attempting to politicize this issue.
The DA’s office told the Vanguard that they have arranged for Cachu to meet with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition after his release to take advantage of their support and services.