By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Friday culminated a whirlwind of activity as Carlos Dominguez was arrested on Thursday and arraigned on Friday, perhaps fittingly in front of former Davis Mayor turned Yolo County Judge Dan Wolk—who promptly disclosed that they live close to Sycamore Park and his wife was walking the family dogs and reported seeing someone who possibly matched the description of the suspect.
Now everything will slow down—the next hearing will not be until May 22 in front of Judge McAdam.
Dominguez was appointed the public defender’s attorneys to defend him. He’ll be in good hands, whether it’s Dan Hutchinson who represented him on Friday, who is one of the best, or someone else.
One thing that surprised me—and perhaps shouldn’t have—was that the DA left at least the possibility of the death penalty on the table.
The DA’s office issued a short press release, which along with the charging document indicates that they are charging him with murder with special circumstances, making him eligible for LWOP or even the death penalty.
The DA’s press release said, “A Special Circumstance for Multiple Murders has been alleged which makes the case eligible for either Life without the Possibility of Parole, or the death penalty. The decision regarding whether to pursue the death penalty will be made at later date.”
Why leave that on the table?
The community was badly shaken by the tragic and senseless nature of the deaths plus the ongoing threat. That threat came to an end on Thursday.
Putting the death penalty on the table doesn’t strengthen the sense of relief in the community—instead it is likely to divide the community, the community of Davis that is overwhelmingly against the death penalty.
Overall, Yolo County twice in the last decade has voted to end the death penalty in California—even as the voters of California have chosen to keep it on the books.
Governor Gavin Newsom has put a moratorium on the death penalty, and even before he became Governor, it is now been 17 years since there was an execution in California – Clarence Allen in 2006.
Last year, Governor Newsom cleared death row, announcing that CDCR “will transfer the men on death row in San Quentin State Prison to other maximum security state prisons.”
The state announced that San Quentin is going to be repurposed into an innovative rehabilitation facility along the lines of the Scandinavian model. If successful, that could become the model for all prisons in California.
While I would criticize the governor for not commuting the sentences of everyone with the death penalty, he announced an advisory council made up of some of the most prominent prison reformers in the state.
“In order to transform San Quentin into the nation’s most innovative rehabilitation facility focused on building a brighter and safer future, we need a deep and diverse bench of expertise,” the Governor said yesterday.
The last two death penalty cases came from cop killings, Brendt Volarvich who shot and killed CHP Officer Andy Stevens in 2005, and Marco Topete, who killed Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Diaz. Topete was sentenced to death in 2012.
The Yolo DA has not charged a death penalty case since.
While California is not executing anyone, the death penalty remains on the books in California. But, given the unlikelihood that Dominguez would ever be executed, does it make sense to charge the death penalty which would almost certainly mean there would be a trial and there would have to be a separate penalty phase of the trial.
The case would drag on for years. Topete’s case took four years to get through the system—this one would figure to take at least as long.
I noted that Davis itself and Yolo County in general has opposed the death penalty. Talking with a close friend of David Breaux, he would not have wanted the death penalty to be imposed. I don’t know the family of Karim Najm, but at least in the memorial service, they were much more focused on Karim’s all too short life rather than any notion of retribution.
We will learn more about Dominguez for sure in the coming weeks.
We already know that he was born in El Salvador, having entered the country in April 2009 as an unaccompanied minor.
Media accounts have spoken to Dominguez’s father who “expressed utter bewilderment and shock at his son’s arrest.”
There will be speculation as to mental illness. Clearly, with a background as an unaccompanied minor and fleeing from El Salvador hints at potential childhood trauma.
There will of course be those who argue that many people come from horrible and traumatic childhoods and don’t turn into serial killers—clearly we are looking at necessary but not sufficient conditions to explain the underlying situation.
In the end, the people I spoke with on Friday felt that it was more likely that the DA would not seek the death penalty and would instead look at life without parole. I am increasingly against LWOP as well—it assumes that people can never change, can never rehabilitate and the only solution to horrific behavior is permanent separation from the community.
More and more we see that many young people can in fact turn a corner and end up doing a lot of good. It can never erase the past and many live with the specter of their crimes for the rest of their lives. But that is a question for another day and debate for another time.
The sooner the DA gets the death penalty off the table, the sooner we can get back to honoring the lives of David Breaux and Karim Najm.