By Robert J. Hansen
The Yolo County District Attorney’s Conviction and Sentence Review Unit to date has resolved 15 cases since its formation in 2014 according to the DA’s Office.
This unit reviews and investigates claims of innocence raised after a criminal conviction involving homicides, sex offenses, and violent crimes.
Cases that are reviewed fall under four categories; evidence issues, the interest of justice, immigration consequences, and mistaken identity.
Only one case has been resolved and conviction overturned where a review of information post-conviction showed the defendant was mistakenly convicted.
Seven of the 15 cases resolved were for immigration issues where the defense failed to properly advise defendants of the immigration consequences of the plea.
In 1992, Lionell Tholmer was convicted in a Yolo County court for the murder of Cynthia Sparpana, a West Sacramento woman, and the disappearance of her daughter, Danyle without any physical evidence linking him to the crime scene and with prosecutors knowingly presenting false testimony by detective Ltd. John Kane.
Tholmer has submitted several requests to the Yolo Conviction and Sentencing Review Unit and has been repeatedly denied by Chief Deputy District Attorney Johnathan Raven.
Yet last month, Placer Judge Garen Horst found good cause to have an evidentiary hearing and a re-examination of Tholmer’s case.
“The petitioner alleged new evidence affecting the veracity of the investigator in this case, Lt. John Kane, and the prosecution failing to disclose evidence,” Horst said in a letter.
In November 2021, Raven was asked if there was compelling evidence to review Tholmer’s case. Raven said no.
“In 2010 we reconstructed the whole file with the assistance of the Public Defender,” Raven said. “In 2017, Mr. Tholmer filed a motion for discovery. We again put the file together and put it on a disc. When he was transferred, the evidence didn’t follow him to the new prison. We then printed 3,673 pages of discovery and mailed it to Mr. Tholmer. He now wants audiotapes. We are working on getting him this evidence as he has a right to continue to review his case.”
There has been no new credible evidence that would necessitate further investigation Raven maintained.
The Conviction and Sentencing Review unit is also responsible for ensuring that any claim of Prosecutorial Misconduct made during the pendency of any criminal matter is thoroughly investigated and litigated before the completion of that pending criminal matter.
Newly acquired evidence by Tholmer reveals false testimony, forged police reports, and prosecutorial misconduct to knowingly use false testimony.
“In light of the additional material provided by the petitioner and the nature of this case … the court needs additional time to review the habeas petition and issue an order, ” Horst said in the letter.
Raven seems to disagree with Judge Horst about any compelling evidence to review Tholmer’s case or the apparent prosecutorial misconduct.
Raven held that there are no issues with Kane’s credibility.
“This issue was addressed at the trial court and on appeal. There is no new credible evidence to point otherwise,” Raven said.
The evidence establishes that a Sacramento PD detective, Lt. John Kane, gave perjured testimony and authored false reports which both Yolo and Placer prosecutors relied heavily on at Tholmer’s trial.
In a report, Kane stated that Sacramento County Sheriff detective and former California Assemblymember, Larry Bowler engineered the arrest and he needed Kane’s help.
Kane’s report stated that Bowler engineered Tholmer’s arrest in Oklahoma City. Kane also testified that he was the only officer Tholmer would speak to.
Bowler testified that he knew Ltd. Kane, but did not normally work field investigations and as a Fraud Doc’s detective, did not work homicides unless there were related financial crimes to a case. Bowler reported that he never worked with or called Kane, according to documents.
“I would not normally work field investigations. I know Ltd. John Kane now retired from the Sacramento Police Department. I, however, do not recall ever co-investigating a case with him,” Bowler said.
Kane’s fabrication of a false report and false testimony was crucial to the prosecutors’ case, dramatically impacting the outcome of both trials.
Tholmer would not likely have been convicted without it.
“If it wasn’t for Kane I wouldn’t have been convicted,” Tholmer has said many times.
Raven happened to say that when there is a finding of innocence, he assumed the prison system would work quickly to release someone from custody.
“Under a new law (prosecutor-initiated resentencing) the DA can now request a judge recall sentences that no longer serve the interests of justice,” Raven said. “I know that upon an order by a judge, based on our request to reduce a sentence that results in a release, CDCR has released individuals within a week.”