By Tommy Nguyen, Jeanine Grimes, Sophia Lu
VENTURA, CA – During The accused’s sentencing hearing earlier this Tuesday, a Ventura County Superior Court judge agreed with the prosecution and sentenced her to jail despite the defense’s dedicated effort and her daughter’s teary statement to the court.
The accused was charged with felony second-degree commercial burglary in 2002, to which she had pleaded guilty in 2003, but she has been out of the court’s jurisdiction since then.
Judge Patricia Murphy recalled that the sentencing agreement between the parties at the time of the accused’s plea was a grant of probation, before asking for the prosecution’s current position.
According to the record, in 2003 it was an offer of 180 days on probation. However, the prosecution argued it no longer believes that offer is appropriate for the accused.
“She [the accused] was out to warrant for roughly 18 years before this case came back on the calendar,” Deputy District Attorney Jillian Ewan explained, adding, “This case remains a felony given the value that she stole, which was over $4,000.”
The record also noted the accused’s denial of involvement in any criminal conduct, and she absconded after pleading guilty pending sentencing because of “having young children.”
The prosecution suggested she should spend time in low-term felony jail for having been on the run for so long.
Defense Counsel Robert Helfend said that “it doesn’t really do [the accused] any justice,” noting she had not avoided all responsibilities.
Helfend informed the court that the accused had already served 116 days actual time awaiting trial. The reason she had to leave, he claimed, was for her three children who were still very young at the time and were not living under the same roof with her family.
The counsel recalled the accused’s first move when she got out of custody was to move back to Miami to gather all of her children under her roof, and she raised them all by herself.
“Now, to say that she was not taking responsibility, your Honor,” wasn’t right, the attorney said. “You were not here that day, but she walked in the front door here. She wasn’t picked up on the warrant…I brought her here. I surrendered her. She posted bond that day and she came back today. And she is here today.”
Attorney Helfend urged the court to follow the recommendation of the Probation Department, which is 180 days with credit for 116 days actual time.
The accused has been working as a pastry chef for this whole time, he said, adding that she plans to move on with her life, open her own restaurant, and continue raising her children. Two of the accused’s children were present in court that day to support her.
“I think there is a difference here. If she [the accused] was on the Zoom screen, and she had come here unwillingly, that’s something, that’s a different story,” the lawyer said. “But when you have somebody that walks in the front door, knows that they’re going to be remanded by the court because it has been a long time, was granted bail, kept her promise.”
Attorney Helfend urged the court to give the accused another chance. He suggested that it is appropriate to put her on 180 days of felony probation and give her permission to transfer the probation to Florida when she is done serving her time.
“She [the accused] left knowing that she was required to be present in the courtroom. She didn’t return within a week or a month. She didn’t contact you back in 2002. And nearly 20 years have passed,” Judge Murphy argued.
The judge insisted the accused has to face consequences for her actions, and it is not going to be the same sentence that was offered back in 2002.
Judge Murphy also said that, while probation is not on the table, she also does not believe that 16 months in county jail is appropriate since the accused did not get into any other trouble since then.
The court suggested that there should be an additional sanction for the failure to appear for a significant period of time, and believed that it should be a straight jail sentence—the accused would be allowed to choose her date to surrender.
Regarding the amount of jail time, the prosecution suggested that 365 days would be appropriate.
The defense, however, continued highlighting the accused’s will to be compliant with the court and rehabilitate, in hopes of reducing the sentence.
“I understand the court’s concern and disappointment in her not coming back for 20 years,” Helfend explained before proposing 270 days instead of the initial 180 days that he wanted.
The judge agreed with that proposal.
Helfend then asked the accused’s daughter to address the court.
“The reason why she never came back was because we were too young and we were not living together as a family,” the daughter explained in tears. “We were put in different households, and this is very private, I have never mentioned it to anyone; I don’t even think my little sister realized.”
The accused’s daughter was sexually abused, and it was she who begged her mom to not come back to court. She was too young and believed that only the mother could protect her.
The daughter affirmed that ever since 2002, the accused has been working tirelessly to provide for her kids, pay her taxes, and has avoided all trouble.
She managed to send her daughters to college, and the daughter is currently maintaining a stable career in New York. The daughter explained that she wouldn’t have become who she is today if not for her mom.
The accused is now 62 years old, and she has been leading her life since 2002 as “a good citizen, and a good mother.” However, the daughter agreed she still needs to face consequences.
Judge Murphy appreciated all the comments that the daughter provided to the court and insisted on going ahead with the sentence proposed by Attorney Helfend previously, which is 270 days with 116 days credit, leaving about 154 days, with the next sentencing hearing on Aug. 23.
The judge granted the request for a 60-day continuance before concluding the hearing. If the accused fails to appear in court for sentencing, she will have to face the maximum sentence of three years.