By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – The DA’s office under Chesa Boudin was supportive of a resentencing of Ronnie Louvier, now 37 and serving a life sentence at Solano Prison. Louvier has maintained that he didn’t shoot 17-year-old Marquise Washington in the Fillmore district in 2008.
At the last minute, the DA’s office under appointed DA Brooke Jenkins sought to postpone the resentencing hearing, raising last-minute opposition to the reduced sentencing.
The office asked for more time and expressed concern for public safety.
Judge Brendan Conroy on Monday denied the request for postponement, but then resentenced Louvier to 25 to life instead of the 15 years to life that defense had discussed that would have led to Louvier’s immediate release. Instead, he has another 10 years before he would be eligible for resentencing.
On Tuesday, the Vanguard spoke with Arcelia Hurtado, who had been the DA’s liaison to the Innocence Commission created by DA Boudin. Hurtado had been fired by Jenkins upon her appointment to the office and the position has not been filled—even though Jenkins has maintained that she fully supports the commission.
“We investigate it, we make a recommendation, and then the DA decides what he wants to do,” she explained. In this case, “we didn’t unanimously find (for factual innocence). Some people on the innocence commission felt that he was factually innocent.”
But they didn’t agree on that in the end and, without agreement, they could not move forward with that recommendation.
Hurtado said that “what we did agree on is that there were a lot of problems with the prosecution, including police misconduct, the use of gang lyrics to show someone’s intent to kill, which, as you know, is the subject of legislation now.”
They also found that “there was racial discrimination on behalf of the police officers towards many young black men in the Western edition at that time, it was during that time when there was an active gang unit at the DA’s office that was prosecuting cases based on gang enhancements.”
What they did file was a petition to resentence him. There is also a pending Habeas case filed by his attorney, Marc Zilversmit.
“All these things made us uncomfortable with the conviction and that’s why I filed the petition to resentence,” Hurtado said.
The DA’s office, according to Hurtado, did not show up to the hearing initial hearing and then requested more time at the second hearing. “So the judge just made a ruling based on the fact that no one was there and so he reduced his sentence from 25 to 10 years on the gun enhancement.”
In addition, despite the fact that the Innocence Commission spent more than a year on an extensive investigation, the DA’s office has not contacted them about the case.
“I think he’s innocent and I think there’s substantial new evidence of innocence,” Marc Zilversmit told the Vanguard. “I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with the new District Attorney, because it seems like the Habeas, which was in the post-conviction unit with the Innocence Commission has now been reassigned to the writs unit.”
Zilversmit has been working the case for seven of the 14 years since Louvier was tried and convicted.
For Zilversmit the key evidence is that the main witness “came forward and said that the police pressured him to identify Ronnie Louvier.”
At the time, that witness was young and thought the best thing to do would be to say he didn’t see anything.
But, Zilversmit said, “He says it’s definitely not Ronnie Louvier. It was somebody who’s much lighter complexion than Ronnie Louvier.”
The witness identified a police office, Reece Burroughs. Zilversmit said, “For some reason during the prior proceedings, the district attorney didn’t tell us that Burroughs had been suspended or disciplined for another case, in which he pressured witnesses to make an identification of somebody he wanted to arrest.”
Zilversmit called this “a quasi Brady violation” in that they “should have told us. It’s exculpatory evidence that supports the claim of innocence and we were having a hearing on that exact issue.”
While the Innocence Commission was not ready to concede the Habeas, Zilversmit said “but they felt he had done enough time and they wanted to file this motion to resentence and they filed it and they asked the judge to resentence him.”
And then Chesa Boudin was recalled and Hurtado was fired.
In an op-ed on Tuesday, Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky supported the passage of legislation that would strengthen the Racial Justice Act, by allowing courts to review cases where convictions were obtained based on appeals to race, ethnicity or national origin.
Writes the Dean, “The act provides that if a violation of it is demonstrated, the court must impose a remedy that may include dismissing or reducing charges or sentences or granting a new trial. However, the act only applies to cases tried after Jan. 1, 2021. It does not provide any relief for those who were previously convicted, no matter how blatant or egregious the expression of racial bias.”
He argued, “The Legislature and governor should enact this bill so that our state can begin to rectify past wrongs caused by racial bias in the criminal courts.”
Importantly, he noted, “the guilty as well as the innocent deserve trials that are not tainted by racial bias. Indeed, a guilty verdict may be tainted by racial bias. It is not acceptable to conclude that a defendant’s conviction or sentence was the product of racial bias and then accept it as valid.”
The standard of “harmless error,” Chemerinsky argued, makes it all too easy for a judge to claim “harmless error” and provide no relief. Moreover, this is “leading critics to respond that racism is never harmless.”
Hurtado argued that “even (for) guilty people being convicted based on racial discrimination… those convictions should be invalid.” She added, “As prosecutors, we should care about racial inequities in the system and racial discrimination and bias and all of those things.”
The problem now is, as she noted, the new DA’s office really doesn’t seem to be prioritizing these issues.
“So when Jenkins talks about being a progressive prosecutor, it’s laughable,” Hurtado said. “It’s laughable to just let an important case like this languish and not even assign someone and not take any responsibility for it.”