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First California Prisoner Resentenced

Kaitlyn Mullin |
December 21, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Convicted youth given second chance, (wikimedia)
Convicted youth given second chance, (wikimedia)

Amidst ongoing national debate about juvenile culpability after a Texas teen avoided jail time following a drunk driving incident that claimed four lives, prisoners in California who were sentenced to life without parole before turning 18 may also be getting a second chance.  

Edel Gonzalez, who was convicted at age 16 for the 1991 murder of Janet Bicknell and thereby sentenced to life without parole, was resentenced this week to 25 years to life under the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, which opens up the possibility of parole. Gonzalez has served 22 years of his sentence, and is the first prisoner to be resentenced under the new law, which was enacted last year. 

His family spoke Wednesday in front of the USC Gould School of Law to voice their continued support of Gonzalez.

“My brother has worked very hard over the past 22 years in prison to become a better person, and I am so proud of him — but our family, especially my brother, will always bear the heavy burden of the loss his actions caused," said his sister, Lydia Espinoza-Oregal.

The California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, or CSFYA, was written by Senator Leland Yee and signed into law last year by Governor Brown. According to the act, prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole before age 18 are eligible to appeal for resentencing.

“This legislation represents welcome relief from the draconian sentencing practices that accompanied the crack plague and its festering aftermath,” said USC law professor Jody Armour.

The law was drafted to account for recent neuroscience findings that demonstrate that young people have a “unique capacity to change and rehabilitate,” according to court documents. Gonzalez’s lawyers claim he was a prime candidate for resentencing under the new legislation due to his prison record and the nature of his crimes. According the documents, Gonzalez was not the shooter and was unarmed during the carjacking that led to Bicknell’s death, and he is a “changed man.” 

“He feels deep remorse for his crime. He is, by all measures, a model prisoner,” said his lawyers, “He is precisely the kind of prisoner the legislature sought to help when it passed the CFSYA.”

The CSFYA does not apply to prisoners who have been incarcerated for more than 25 years and those who committed a crime where the victim was a public safety official, and according to Armour, who believes that the legislation may not go far enough. 

“The spirit and logic of mercy and proportionality it embodies hopefully will be extended to prisoners who were not minors at the time of their crime, for there are many other grounds of compassion other than being very young,” he said.

Reach Staff Writer Kaitlyn Mullin here or follow her on twitter here.



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