In November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act. Championed by Governor Jerry Brown, the measure expanded parole possibilities for nonviolent offenders and barred prosecutors from filing juvenile cases in adult court. Last month, California’s Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 57 could be applied retroactively. On those grounds, California’s Third Court of Appeals “conditionally reversed” the conviction of one of the most violent criminals in state history and expanded his prospects for early release.
Daniel Marsh was just 15 on April 14, 2013, when he broke into the Davis home of 87-year-old Oliver “Chip” Northup, an attorney and popular bluegrass musician, and his 76-year-old wife, Claudia Maupin, a pastoral associate at the Davis Unitarian Church, where the couple met. A police report said that the two were killed “in a way that manifested exceptional depravity,” which was no exaggeration. The autopsy report runs 16 pages and 6,658 words, noting that the murderer stabbed Maupin 67 times and Northup 61 times. Marsh disemboweled both victims; he placed a cell phone inside the corpse of Maupin and a drinking glass inside Northup.
In his lengthy interview with police, Marsh said that Maupin told him to “please stop.” Marsh kept on stabbing because “she just wouldn’t die.” The stabbing “just felt right,” and the double murder and mutilations, Marsh said, “felt amazing,” gave him “pure happiness,” and “the most exhilarating enjoyable feeling I’ve ever felt.” He inserted the phone and glass to throw investigators off track, and when police accused him of the murders, his first response was “I’m a kid.” Marsh’s public defender sought to have the confession tossed, but Judge David Reed rejected that bid. Marsh then offered an insanity defense, bringing in expert witness James Merikangas, a psychologist and neurologist, who claimed that Marsh was in a “dissociative state” when he killed.
Prosecutors Michael Cabral and Amanda Zambor made the case that Marsh was sane at the time of the murders; a Yolo County jury agreed, and in December 2014, Judge David Reed sentenced Marsh to 52 years to life in state prison. The killer received an additional year for use of a knife, but got no extra time for lying in wait or committing torture. The double murderer, now 20, would be eligible for parole after 25 years, when he would be in his early forties.
On February 1, 2018, the California Supreme Court addressed the case of Pablo Lara, a juvenile charged with kidnapping and raping a seven-year-old girl. The court ruled that Proposition 57 “applies retroactively,” because “the possibility of being treated as a juvenile in juvenile court—where rehabilitation is the goal—rather than being tried and sentenced as an adult can result in dramatically different and more lenient treatment.” Proposition 57 “reduces the possible punishment for a class of persons, namely juveniles,” and therefore, the court ruled, Proposition 57 “applies to all juveniles charged directly in adult court whose judgment was not final at the time it was enacted.”
On February 22, the Third Court of Appeals ruled that the case of Daniel Marsh “was not fully briefed until July 2017.” Therefore, “this initiative applies retroactively to defendant’s pending appeal, and that we must conditionally reverse for proceeding in juvenile court.” So all that painstaking work by Cabral and Zambor has been set aside by a three-judge panel headed by Kathleen Butz, an appointee of Governor Gray Davis. Also on the panel was Jerry Brown appointee Cole Blease, former attorney for the California Teachers Association. The appeal ruling does not name Northup and Maupin, the victims of the savage and pointless murder.
A proceeding will determine if Marsh was indeed suitable for trial in adult court. If so, the court will restore Marsh’s conviction for the two murders. If not, he will be re-sentenced as a juvenile and face a maximum punishment of incarceration until age 25. Whatever one chooses to call it, the proceeding is clearly a new trial for a sadist who has never shown the slightest remorse for his savage actions. In 2014, when the court declined to toss Marsh’s detailed confession, Maupin’s daughter Victoria Hurd said that the decision “restores faith in humanity in the midst of this depravity.” In 2018, when Hurd got word of the reversal, she told the Sacramento Bee: “This is so wrong. It’s come barreling back into our presence.”
Marsh is not the only shut-and-open case in the Proposition 57 pipeline. According to California’s attorney general, there were 71,923 juvenile arrests in 2015, 29.7 percent of which were for felonies. Five hundred and sixty-six juveniles were tried in adult court, and 88 percent were convicted. young man convicted in 2014 murder wants new trial after prop. 57 passes, read a headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune about Kurese Bell, convicted of murder at age 17. prop. 57 could turn back time for minors charged with murder, the Lompoc Record announced.
As with the case of Daniel Marsh, these judicial reconsiderations will have nothing to do with potentially exculpatory evidence or errors in trial; they are politically and ideologically driven attempts to overturn legal and proper verdicts. Relatives of Claudia Maupin, Oliver Northup, or other victims have good reason to see these efforts as perverse, even depraved.