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Court of Appeal Overturns Governor's Reversal of Board's Third Grant of Parole to California Prisoner

By Mike Brodheim

The California Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Div. 2) has overturned Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's reversal of the parole board's third grant of parole to Bennie Moses, some 30 years after he was sent to prison to serve a sentence of 17 years to life for second degree murder.

In 1979, after drinking excessively, 30-year-old Moses shot and killed Willie Rhodes, whose brother, five years earlier, had shot to death Moses's father over a $2.00 gambling debt.

After maintaining an exemplary prison record, Moses was found suitable for parole by the Board of Parole Hearings, for the third time, in July 2007. The Governor subsequently reversed the Board's proposed grant of parole. In doing so, the Governor relied on the immutable circumstances of the offense, Moses's criminal history, and the fact that Moses's version of events did not perfectly align itself with the Governor's view of what actually happened.

The Court of Appeal rejected the Governor's three reasons, finding that they amounted to little more than "rote recitation" of unsuitability factors and, in any event, were not based on evidence of current dangerousness. To the extent that Moses's recollection of events differed from other evidence, the Court held, any discrepancies are "insignificant in light of [Moses's] acknowledgement that he murdered Rhodes and repeated expressions of remorse, his extensive drinking on the day in question, which could have affected his perceptions, his denunciation of drinking and guns, his longstanding participation in prison in self-help programs such as AA ..., his exemplary disciplinary and work record in prison, and the multiple positive psychological evaluations that [he received over the years]."

Finding no evidence of current dangerousness in the record, the Court rejected the Attorney General's suggestion that the matter be remanded to the Governor. Instead, the Court reinstated the Board's July 2007 grant of parole. See: In re Moses, 182 Cal.App.4th 1279, 106 Cal.Rptr.3d 608 (2010).

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Related legal case

In re Moses