SF: Court orders parole releases in Oakland and South City murder cases 

A state appeals court in San Francisco today ordered the parole release of two men who each served close to three decades in prison for separate second-degree murders committed in Oakland in 1979 and South San Francisco in 1982.

Bennie Moses, 61, was convicted in Alameda County Superior Court of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Willie Rhodes, whose brother had killed Moses’s father five years earlier, in Oakland on 1979. He was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.

Ernesto Juarez, 50, was found guilty in San Mateo County Superior Court of second-degree murder in killing Bruce Farley in a vehicle collision in South San Francisco in 1982.

Juarez was 22 and was under the influence of PCP as he sped away from police on El Camino Real, crossed the center lines and struck Farley’s car in oncoming traffic. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In two separate decisions, a three-judge Court of Appeal panel overturned Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s denial of parole to Moses and the state Board of Parole Hearings’ rejection of parole for Juarez.

The panel said that in both cases, there was no evidence that the two men were a danger to society. The justices said both men had excellent records in prison, had taken responsibility for their crimes and had shown remorse.

In Moses’s case, the state parole board had granted parole three times, in 2003, 2005 and 2007, but Schwarzenegger overruled the board each time, saying that Moses was a danger to public safety.

Schwarzenegger acted under power given to him in a 1988 voter-approved amendment to the California Constitution that allows the governor to overrule parole board decisions in murder cases.

The state Supreme Court said in 2002 that courts must uphold the governor’s parole denials so long as there is “some evidence” for the action.

But in Moses’s case, the appeals panel said Schwarzenegger’s reasoning was “seriously flawed” and there was no evidence to back up the governor’s finding that he posed a danger to the public.

Justice James Lambden wrote, “We conclude that there is no evidence in the record to support the governor’s repeated reversals of the board’s grant of parole.”

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said, “We’re reviewing the ruling and reviewing whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court.”

In Juarez’s case, the parole board granted parole in 2004, but was reversed by Schwarzenegger. In a later parole hearing in 2008, the board itself denied parole.

Lambden wrote in the court ruling, “There is no evidence in the record to support the board’s denial, or that Juarez continues to pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society.”

The panel said Juarez, a former high school dropout, was a model prisoner, participating in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and becoming a licensed optician while in prison.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was not immediately available for comment on whether the parole board will appeal the Juarez decision.

 

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