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California Felony-Murder Reform Shaves 11,000 Years Off 600 Prisoner Sentences

Douglas Ankney

According to an analysis from California’s Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD), reforms to the state’s felony-murder statutes had a dramatic effect by August 3, 2023. By then the agency had found sentence reductions granted to 602 state prisoners, since state lawmakers passed SB 1437 in 2018 and SB 775 in 2021. Erasing a total of 11,353 years from their sentences also saved state taxpayers as much as $1.2 billion in prison costs, OSPD said.

The two laws affected prosecutions for so-called “felony murder,” which assigns liability for a killing to those who aided or abetted the murderer. Like a majority of U.S. states, California permitted anyone involved in committing a felony to be prosecuted for a murder that resulted—including those not involved in the killing and who never had any intent to kill.

That’s how Patty Ann Lamoureaux was arrested and charged with felony murder in the 2011 killing of Bradley Capen. At that time, Lamoureaux was living with her boyfriend Ian Inserra. He accompanied a man named Kyle Miller to Miller’s family home, where they planned to rob Capen who was Miller’s uncle. But Miller fatally shot Capen. Even though though Lamoureaux was not present during the crime and had never been involved in any plan to kill Capen, she helped plan the robbery, so she was charged with felony-murder. Prosecutors alleged she also disposed of the gun Miller used, though Lamoureaux claimed she got rid of the gun because Miller had hidden it in a tree near her home and she feared Inserra’s young son would find it. She was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The two laws amended the state’s felony-murder statute so that only those who actually committed or intended to commit the killing, or people who were major participants in the related felony who also acted with “reckless indifference to human life” may be prosecuted for felony-murder. The laws applied retroactively, permitting people already imprisoned under the old statute to be resentenced for lesser crimes. Lamoureaux, now known as Patricia Ann Brown, petitioned for resentencing under SB 1437 and was released.

But it wasn’t easy. Prosecutors fought her release all the way to the California Supreme Court. When it refused to hear their appeal, that left in place a lower court’s ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the new law and found Brown eligible for resentencing under it because the state had never established that she had any intent for anyone to be killed. Her victory cleared the path for others convicted of felony murder to be released.

Now 57, Brown lives in Encitas, managing a motel with her family and her fiancée. Although the joy she initially felt upon release has waned somewhat, she reminds herself that at one point she had resigned herself to dying in prison, saying: “It’s a miracle that I’m out.”  


Source: Los Angeles Times

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