FOLLOW-UP EXCLUSIVE: Defense Attorney Explains How Passage of SB 1437 was Able to Correct an Everyday Injustice

By Brinda Kalita

MODESTO, CA- In Stanislaus County Superior Court about two weeks ago, a PC section 1170.5 hearing for Jesse James Sebourn was finally approved, meaning his charges for voluntary manslaughter with a gang affiliation enhancement will be dropped and he will be resentenced. 

This will give him the opportunity—the resentencing hearing will be May 8 at 1:30 p.m.—to finally come home after spending 10 years of a 21-year sentence for a crime that he was wrongfully convicted of, maintains his attorney.

The Vanguard was able to speak with Sebourn’s attorney, Attorney Brian Ford, to learn more about the background of Sebourn’s case as well as to discuss the impact of this verdict for not only Sebourn, but for many other cases like his.

During the hearing, Attorney Ford stated he had been working on this case even before he became a licensed attorney. In our chat with him, we first asked him about the factors that compelled him to keep working on Sebourn’s case.

Ford replied that he kept fighting because he felt, “Our job was just not done yet.”

He then elaborated on how the first trial for Sebourn’s case ended with a hung jury, even after tons of resources were funneled into the case, including money, a separate building for the courtroom the trial was to take place in, the fact that it was a grand jury indictment, and more.

He added that after all of that, it just made sense to continue to fight on for Sebourn’s case, as there was so much investment, and even with all of that, there still was not a fair outcome for Sebourn.

Attorney Ford then admitted that for a while, Sebourn was working with a court-appointed attorney. During this time with the court-appointed attorney, Sebourn had taken a plea deal, which eventually led to his voluntary manslaughter verdict.

“I was quite horrified when I found out Sebourn took the plea deal. It just didn’t make sense.” he emphasized.

Attorney Ford then explained to the Vanguard some of the biggest barriers that he faced while working on this case.

He first stated that one of the biggest barriers to bringing Sebourn justice was the insistence of the prosecution that Sebourn was directly responsible for the murder in 2013.

More specifically, he shared, “The prosecution’s persistence that Sebourn was some kind of ringleader of the whole thing was something that made things difficult. From our perspective, Sebourn was not even in the vicinity the night of the shooting, and he simply did not have the mental capacity to orchestrate whatever the prosecution believed him to have done.

“It was disappointing to see that even after we’ve proven he did not do these things, the prosecution just kept arguing that he was there, even though that was against most of the evidence.”

Another challenge Attorney Ford shared was some of the logistical problems that arose due to the length of this case. Ford added that, because of lack of funds, Sebourn needed to take counsel from the public defender, which eventually led to the unfair plea deal being taken.

He also said he did many things for Sebourn’s case at lower rates because of the inability that the accused had to pay for proper defense counseling.

The Vanguard then asked Attorney Ford about perhaps some moments where he truly felt that he could see this case move in a positive direction.

Ford tevealed the moment he learned about the passing of SB 1437, he felt extremely confident that he could change things for Sebourn.

More specifically, Ford stated that, “When I found out that SB 1437 was passed, I literally felt like it was created for Sebourn.”

However, when we asked him if SB 1437 changed the arguments he was using on Sebourn entirely, Attorney Ford shared that was not quite it, and that their arguments to defend Sebourn remained the same before and after the passing of SB 1437. Rather, SB 1437 simply changed the parameters that this case needed to be evaluated around.

“With the old felony murder rule, it was much easier to be found liable for first degree murder. Under the old rule, there was just so much more room for grey area, and how far you could be involved and still held liable for. But, with SB 1437, there needed to be direct involvement, which Sebourn simply just did not have in the matter.”

Attorney Ford also shared how he was interested in seeing if there is data on the impact that SB 1437 is having for others within similar predicaments to Sebourn.

“I believe that the old felony murder laws used to sweep up a lot of people who probably did not deserve it.” he stated.

We asked Attorney Ford about the outcome that he wanted to have for Sebourn’s resentencing hearing. Attorney Ford revealed that he is working for Sebourn to be charged for four years, for assault with a gang enhancement but he knows that the prosecution is trying to get him to be charged for assault and a gang enhancement for eight years.

However, regardless of the outcome, he knows that Sebourn will be going home because he has the credit hours for 10 years.

Attorney Ford also said how proud he is of Sebourn, noting, “I am incredibly proud of Jesse. I don’t get to see him very much but he has a very good head on his shoulders and is a happy, upbeat person despite being in prison. I am looking forward to seeing him again.”

About The Author

Brinda is a student at UC Riverside, pursuing a degree in History with a Law and Society emphasis. She plans to attend law school after receiving her bachelors.

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