Monday, June 19, 2017

Daily Corrections Clips



Kern County jurors describe turmoil of deliberations during death penalty trial

Jason Kotowski,


Accusations were made and frustrations shown, tears fell and tempers rose, and in the end further progress in reaching a unanimous decision was deemed impossible.

It was an emotional, grueling week for the jury that sat on the trial of convicted killer Dennis Bratton.

While it convicted Bratton of an assault charge in the stomping death of cellmate Andrew Keel, it deadlocked 10-2 Thursday after three days of grueling deliberations on whether Bratton should get death or life without parole.

Five jurors who voted for death spoke with The Californian on Friday about the 4 1/2-month trial and the discussions that occurred. They asked not to be identified by name given the sensitivity of the issues involved, instead asking to be identified by juror number.

The biggest reason they decided to speak out? They wanted to deny allegations made by defense counsel that they bullied the two dissenting jurors. 

Juror No. 3 said the two dissenting jurors entered the jury room with their minds already made up when it was time for deliberations. They felt Bratton could change and didn't deserve to die. 

One of the dissenting jurors, juror No. 12 said, told the rest of the jury she was stubborn and had her own reasons for not voting for death. This juror said she could sentence someone to death only for "certain cases," and did not elaborate what those cases were, juror No. 12 said. 

The jurors said the two dissenting jurors barely participated as the others deliberated. Juror No. 11 said one of them spent the entire time drawing and just went along with everything the other dissenting juror said.

Juror No. 12 said the rest of them weren't bothered the two jurors were voting for life without parole, they just wanted them to participate. She said she wanted to hear their opinions.

"We were trying to have open and honest discussions," juror No. 7 said. 

Multiple jurors told the court they didn't believe the two dissenting jurors were participating as required by law and as they'd sworn to do. The judge questioned several jurors individually but found no evidence of a juror refusing to participate. 

The five said they never cursed at or disparaged the two dissenting jurors, or otherwise treated them badly. 

"We don't like being looked at as bullies," juror No. 4 said. 

Once the mistrial was declared, a couple jurors shed tears. The five said the trial, which they've been involved in since February, was an intense experience that left them exhausted. And disappointed. 

"I feel like we failed Andrew Keel and there's no justice for his family," juror No. 11 said. 

Keel's sister, Jessica McCoy, sent an email to jurors thanking the 10 who voted for death. She said she knows they "gave their all" in the trial and looked at her brother as a human being, not just another inmate.

The five said a number of factors convinced them Bratton deserved death.
While defense counsel argued Bratton killed Keel in self-defense, there were no wounds on Bratton's body with the exception of bruising on his heels and knees.

His past convictions also swayed them, the jurors said, as did his continuing to get into trouble up to shortly before the trial began.

"My biggest concern is he's going to do this again and affect another family," juror No. 7 said. 

Just six months before trial, Bratton knocked another inmate unconscious for beating him at handball, prosecutor Andi Bridges told the jurors during her closing argument.

The five jurors commended Bridges' work. Juror No. 7 said she was "fantastic" and did a "great job."

McCoy, in an email to The Californian, echoed that sentiment.

"Andi never treated this like just another case and another inmate," she wrote. "She has laughed with me and cried with me. She put in endless hours taking time away from her family to fight for mine. 

"She is one of a kind and I could not have asked for a better prosecutor fighting for us."

The five jurors took issue with some remarks made by Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman, particularly when he told the jury the prosecution was going to ask them to become "killers" and turn the jury room into a "death chamber."

In response, Cadman said the following:

"The mob mentality of jurors whipped into a frenzy to kill a person who had been convicted of no sex offenses and no crimes against children spread like a virus.

"I personally spoke to the two jurors who did not know each other before this trial began and they were shaking, crying and very emotional at the terrible treatment they received from the other 10 jurors."

Cadman added one of the dissenting jurors was questioned by the judge and said, under oath, she deliberated and participated in the proceedings. 

The attorney said he remains "nonplussed" at the idea of some jurors wanting to replace others who held the value of life to a higher standard. 

As for his "killers" comment, Cadman said, "When you vote for death in a death penalty case you vote for homicide. That means you vote to kill, and thank goodness there were two non-killers out of the bunch who saw that Dennis Bratton isn't even close to the worst of the worst." 

On May 16, 2013, Bratton stomped and strangled Keel, crushing his skull.

Bridges said the killing was planned and Bratton bragged about it afterward. In 2010, Bratton stomped another inmate who required lifesaving brain surgery. 

The jury convicted Bratton May 17 of assault by a life prisoner with force likely to produce great bodily injury. He was serving a life term for a 1996 bank robbery in San Diego County at the time he killed Keel.


Last defendant in ATM murder case sentenced

Matthew Cabe, Victorville Daily Press

VICTORVILLE — The last of three defendants involved in the 2012 shooting death of a 56-year-old Victorville man near an ATM has been sentenced.

Valerie Joi Wildman, 51, of Victorville, was sentenced Wednesday to a determinate term of 25 years to life and an indeterminate term of 50 years to life, according to court records.

On March 17, after a month-long trial, Wildman was found guilty of murder, robbery and attempted robbery. The jury found 13 enhancements to be true, including that Wildman personally used a handgun during her role in a night of crimes perpetrated with two alleged members of the Rollin’ 60′s Neighborhood Crips gang.

One count of participation in a criminal street gang, as well as a firearm discharge enhancement, were dismissed. Wildman was credited more than 4½ years for time served and good behavior, according to court records.

The day before Wildman’s conviction, Ronell Bolden, 25, of Victorville, was also found guilty of murder, attempted robbery and two counts of robbery, according to court records. The jury, after two days of deliberations, found 10 enhancements to be true, including the use of a firearm during a felony.

One count of felony participation in a criminal street gang and two violent felony enhancements were dismissed, court records show, and Bolden was sentenced in May to nearly 80 years to life without the possibility of parole.

He was credited more than 4½ years for time served and good behavior. Bolden was admitted into North Kern State Prison in Delano on Tuesday, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) records.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2012, deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Victorville Station found Duane Lee Murley, of Victorville, with fatal gunshot wounds inside a green Chevrolet Silverado pickup near the Wells Fargo Bank in the area of Hesperia and Silica roads, according to a previous Daily Press report.

Deputies believed Murley was shot while in the vehicle. Sheriff’s Homicide Detail detectives learned that Murley had gone to an ATM at the Wells Fargo bank and as he returned to his vehicle he was confronted and shot. The truck traveled a short distance after the shooting before coming to rest in the parking lot.

Investigators reviewed traffic enforcement video surveillance tapes from several locations to create a timeline and tie Wildman’s black Ford Explorer SUV to the crime scene.

On May 28, 2013, after a seven-month investigation, homicide detectives and Victorville Station deputies arrested Bolden, Wildman, Phillip Tracey Peterson Jr. (Bolden’s cousin) and Lashawn Renaee Hay (Bolden’s mother), a fourth defendant.

Bolden, Wildman and Peterson were all held to stand trial for murder during a Nov. 7, 2013, preliminary hearing. Hay faced accessory and participation in a criminal street gang charges because authorities believed she knew Bolden and Peterson were Rollin’ 60′s members.

In 2004, the Rollin’ 60′s were the largest criminal street gang in Los Angeles, with more than 1,600 members, according to a Los Angeles Daily News report. The gang formed as an offshoot of the Westside Crips — L.A.’s original crip gang — in 1976. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department did not initially respond to a request for updated membership numbers.

In July 2014, Hay pleaded no contest to accessory and the criminal street gang charge was dismissed, court records show. She was sentenced to two years in county prison on April 24, 2015, but was credited more than two years (850 days) for time served and good behavior.

Testimony provided by Homicide Detective Joseph Janowicz during the prelim painted a picture of what began as a night out to celebrate Bolden’s birthday. It ended with armed robbery outside a restaurant and the murder outside the bank.

During an interview, Wildman told Janowicz she picked up Hay and the two hung out and drank before heading to the former Teazers Nightclub on Seventh Street in Victorville, where they met Bolden and Peterson.

The four then visited the Denny’s Restaurant on Valley Center Drive. Deputy Zachary Fidler was dispatched to Denny’s at 3:30 a.m. after a report of an armed robbery in the parking lot.

A victim told Fidler that two black male suspects, one armed with a handgun, demanded money, jewelry and took cell phones.

Sgt. Jason Hendrix, a Victorville detective at the time, testified that a victim picked Bolden out of a photo lineup as the man who robbed him and had the gun.
Later, Hay asked Wildman to drive to the Wells Fargo and she agreed, according to the story Wildman told Janowicz.

Wildman told Janowicz that Bolden and Peterson exited the SUV upon arrival at Wells Fargo and were gone approximately 10 to 15 minutes before returning. Both were running.

Janowicz said Wildman told him different versions of the story in two interviews he conducted with her in 2013. In one version she said she didn’t hear any gunshots. She later reported hearing two gunshots, the detective testified.

She drove her companions home and returned to her residence. Meanwhile, Murley was pronounced dead at the scene.

Peterson, 22, of Victorville, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and robbery last year, according to court records.

Pursuant to his plea deal, murder, attempted robbery and participation in a criminal street gang charges, as well as a second robbery charge, were dismissed. Eleven enhancements were dismissed, as well.

Peterson was sentenced May 24 to 22 years in state prison, court records show. He was credited more than 4½ years for time served and good behavior. He was admitted into North Kern State Prison on Thursday, CDCR records show.

Both Wildman and Bolden filed appeals last week, court records show.




Edhat Staff, Edhat

A subcommittee of the Santa Barbara County Community Corrections Partnership, the Reentry Steering Committee (RSC) is a body of justice system representatives, community-based reentry professionals, and advocates working together to ensure criminal justice-involved individuals experience a successful transition from incarceration to community living.  The RSC is seeking to add voting members who represent the broad community affected by incarceration and involvement in the criminal justice system.  RSC members have the opportunity to voice their expertise in a forum that helps set program priorities and express reentry needs to leaders of the county’s criminal justice system.  Formerly incarcerated, family members of the formerly incarcerated, advocates who are professionally involved in the treatment and/or rehabilitation of justice involved individuals are encouraged to apply. 

 In an effort to provide coordinated services that meet individually unique needs of the formerly incarcerated individuals, the Committee is represented by county agencies and organizations involved at various stages of the criminal justice system, including community-based agencies, educational institutions, treatment providers as well as multiple non-criminal justice county agencies. Currently, the RSC is an advisory body to the Sheriff’s Day Reporting Centers for state parolees (a partnership with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) and the Probation Report and Resource Centers serving probationers. The committee provides leadership and direction to the county’s Jail Discharge Planning services, in and out of custody evidence-based programming and the overall reentry and programs plan for the new Northern Branch Jail facility.  The RSC also seeks to identify appropriate funding sources to support reentry efforts across the county. 

To submit an application, please go to  You may also access an application by contacting Felicia Chavez at (805)882-3638.  The deadline for applications is July 7, 2017.

For additional information on the RSC, please contact committee co-chairs Probation Manager Kimberly Shean at or Sheriff’s Program Supervisor Katherine Ward at


On Death Row, but Is He Innocent?

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

One June day in 1983, a California professor drove over to a neighbor’s house to pick up his 11-year-old son from a sleepover. Nobody answered the door, so the professor peered through a window — and saw a ghastly panorama of blood.

The professor found his son stabbed to death, along with the bodies of Peggy and Doug Ryen, the homeowners. The Ryens’ 10-year-old daughter was also dead, with 46 wounds, but their 8-year-old son was still breathing.

This quadruple murder began a travesty that is still unfolding and underscores just how broken the American justice system is. A man named Kevin Cooper is on San Quentin’s death row awaiting execution for the murders, even though a federal judge says he probably is innocent.

“He is on death row because the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department framed him,” the judge, William A. Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, declared in a searing 2013 critique delivered in a distinguished lecture series.

Fletcher was in the minority in 2009 when his court refused to rehear the case. His dissent, over 100 pages long, points to Cooper’s possible innocence and to systematic police misconduct. It’s a modern equivalent of Émile Zola’s “J’accuse.”
At least 10 other federal judges have also expressed concerns about Cooper’s conviction. Many other eminent legal experts, including the then-president of the American Bar Association, have also called on Gov. Jerry Brown to intervene.

The evidence of police tampering is overwhelming. When lawyers working on Cooper’s appeal asked for DNA testing on a T-shirt believed to belong to the killer, the lab found Cooper’s blood on the shirt — but also something astonishing: The blood had test tube preservative in it! In other words, it appeared to have come from the supply of Cooper’s blood drawn by the police and kept in a test tube.

When the test tube was later examined, it had the DNA of at least two people in it. It appeared that someone had removed some of Cooper’s blood and then topped off the test tube with the blood of one or more other people to hide the deception.

What’s extraordinary about the case is that not only is it likely that Cooper is innocent, but that we also have a good idea who committed the murders.

The 10-year-old victim, Jessica Ryen, died with a clump of light hair in her hands, and the 8-year-old survivor, her brother, Joshua, repeatedly told investigators that the attackers had been three or four white men. Mr. Cooper is black.

Meanwhile, a woman told the police (and her statements were later backed up by her sister) that a housemate, a convicted murderer, had shown up with others late on the night of the murders in blood-spattered overalls and driving a station wagon resembling one stolen from the Ryens’ home. The women said the housemate was no longer wearing the T-shirt he had on earlier in the evening — the same kind as found near the murders.

A hatchet like one of the murder weapons was missing from the man’s tool chest, and a friend of his confessed to a fellow prisoner that he had participated in the killings. The women gave the bloody overalls to the police — who threw them out, apparently because they didn’t fit their narrative that Cooper was the killer.

There was no reliable evidence against Cooper. But he had escaped from a minimum-security prison (he walked away) where he was serving a burglary sentence and had holed up in an empty house near the Ryens’ home. A court suggested that he had killed the Ryens to steal their station wagon — although it is thought to have been parked in front of the house with the keys in it. And when the car was found, it appeared that three people with bloody clothing had sat in it.

One fundamental factor in this case is Cooper’s race, and this case is a microcosm of racial injustice in the United States. The police seemed predisposed to believe the worst of a black man; Cooper was subjected to racist taunts as his case unfolded; and Democratic and Republican politicians alike have shown themselves inclined to avert their eyes, even if this leaves an innocent man on death row.

As governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to act. Kamala Harris, who was state attorney general and is now a U.S. senator, was unhelpful. Governor Brown is reviewing the case, but previously as attorney general exhibited little interest.

Cooper and his lawyers are not asking for a pardon right now, or even for a commutation to life imprisonment. They’re simply asking Governor Brown to order a review of the case with new DNA testing (critical testing has never been done) to indicate whether Cooper is likely guilty or innocent. They will even pay for the testing, because they believe it will both exonerate Cooper and implicate the real killers.

“We’re not saying let Kevin out of jail now, we’re not saying pardon him,” noted one of his pro bono lawyers, Norman Hile. “We’re saying, let’s find out if he’s innocent.”

This case is a national embarrassment. It appears that an innocent man was railroaded, in part because he is black, and the government won’t even allow crucial DNA testing.

Governor Brown, will you act?