BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A man convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole in 2006 under California’s felony-murder rule must be sent back to Kern for a hearing on whether he qualifies for resentencing, an appellate court says.
A three-judge panel last week reversed a ruling by Kern County Superior Court Judge Michael G. Bush in the case of Nathan Banks, convicted along with co-defendant Dedric Langston of murder, robbery and conspiracy in the February 2005 killing of Louis Steele.
In 2019, Bush denied a motion for resentencing filed by Banks after determining the change to the felony-murder rule was unconstitutional. Bush said the law effectively changed Proposition 7, adopted by voters during a statewide general election in 1978.
Since Bush’s ruling, the 5th District Court of Appeal has consistently found the law constitutional. Multiple inmates serving life terms under the felony-murder rule have been transported to Kern County for resentencing hearings.
Previously under the rule, defendants could be found guilty of murder and sentenced to life terms in cases where they weren’t the actual killer but committed a dangerous felony such as robbery or burglary that resulted in the death of another person.
But in 2019 the law changed and to require a person to actually commit or aid in a killing, or have the intent to kill, during the commission of a crime in order to be charged with murder. Otherwise, they can only be prosecuted for the underlying crime, whether it’s robbery, burglary or other serious offenses. The law is retroactive.
For Banks and others to qualify for resentencing, the court must find they were not the actual killer and not a “major participant” in the crime who acted with reckless disregard to human life, Kern Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel said.
“Appellate courts have generally held the statute constitutional, which means, like those other cases, this one goes back to us to go through the process implemented by the statute for the court to make a determination on the merits of the petition,” he said.
A date for Banks’ hearing had not been scheduled.
Among those who have upcoming resentencing hearings is Angelique Nash, convicted of murder in the 2010 death of Dorothy Session, 81. She acted as a lookout while her sister and a third defendant entered Session’s home to commit a burglary during which Session was struck and knocked down, and later died.