Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Former DA discusses clemency for woman convicted in Eureka murder

Last week Governor Jerry Brown announced he would commute the sentence of a woman convicted in the murder of a Eureka man back in 2001. Florence Anderson had been serving 25 years to life for helping her then pimp murder and rob a man who’d paid to have sex with her.

Paul Gallegos, who served as Humboldt County’s District Attorney for 12 years until the start of 2015, recently informed Humboldt Last Week he was told by the Governor’s Office the decision was made largely on input from him.

Gallegos isn’t 100 percent positive his decision was correct, but he feels and prays it was. He believes there was persuasive evidence that Anderson’s role in the murder could at the very least be partially attributed to the physical and emotional abuse inflicted upon her by her boyfriend -- the pimp who stabbed Bruce James to death at the Broadway Motel over 16 years ago. Gallegos believes if Anderson not been abused and fearful of this pimp, she would not have participated in the murder.

Citing what he called charitably sobering statistics on domestic violence, the former DA said he “reviewed the evidence again and again and again and reflected on what was the right decision over many, many months.”

It's possible to listen to Humboldt Last Week's coverage on this case here.

You can read Gallegos’ full statement below.

I was informed by the Governor’s office that the Governor’s decision was based largely on input from me. Therefore, if the decision was wrong, you can place responsibility for that decision on me.

I confess that I do not know if the decision was the right one. I do, however, believe it was. I pray that I am right.

It was my opinion that there was persuasive evidence that her participation in the murder could be attributed, in large or small part, to physical and emotional abuse that was inflicted on her by her boyfriend, the actual murderer and her actual fear of him. In fact, after reviewing the evidence, I was not convinced that, but for the abuse, she would have participated in the murder.

For some perspective on the seriousness of the violence that women suffer at the hands of their male partners, in 2015 the Violence Policy Center published “When Men Murder Women” which reported that nationwide, 94 percent of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew. Of the victims who knew their offenders, 62 percent were wives or other intimate acquaintances of their killers. (http://www.vpc.org/studies/wmmw2015.pdf) The level of violence and physical abuse and fear that women experience at the hands of men that they are in an intimate relationship with is, to be charitable, sobering. The fact is that, in most circumstances, men are bigger and stronger than the women they are intimate with and this is an inescapable part of their world with us.

Women are the source of all life. They are our mothers, our wives and our daughters. They share their lives and give of themselves and, too often, we reward them with fear and violence. We need to understand this experience of theirs.

Having said all of that, I also confess that I reviewed the evidence again and again and again and reflected on what was the right decision over many, many months. There were sound arguments that could be made from the evidence that led to diametrically opposed decisions. As I sit here today, while I live with my decision, I cannot say that I know with 100 % certitude that it was the right decision or that I will not one day regret it. I can, however say with 100 % certitude, that I believe that it was. Once again, I pray that I am right.

I can also tell you that, progressively after much reflection, I arrived at the conclusion that if a commutation was not appropriate in her case then it was, perhaps, never going to be appropriate. Except, I suppose, in a case where the defendant was, in fact, innocent. Of course, of someone is innocent they shouldn’t get a commutation, they should be exonerated. Therefore, I felt that both the facts and the law were such that, in her case, consideration of the evidence that did not amount to a defense but did warrant consideration and, perhaps, and mitigation were such that intervention on behalf of the Governor was warranted.

I appreciate the Governor’s courage in making the decision that he did. I understand how difficult it can be to make such a decision. I was told once that many men exhibit physical courage but only few exhibit moral courage. I think that, right or wrong, the Governor’s decision exhibited moral courage. Regardless of what your thoughts might be on whether it was the right decision, I hope we can agree on this.

Sincerely,

Paul V. Gallegos

Paul Gallegos