BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Yolanda Ann Espinoza opened the door to two people in June 2003 after they asked for a glass of water and the use of her phone.
Espinoza, 46, was later found dead with multiple stab wounds and a plastic bag tied around her head. Cause of death was suffocation.
Lonny Lorenzo Johnson and Trayvale Chance Carlson were arrested and convicted of murder. Carlson, 13 at the time, was released several years ago following a change in laws regarding juvenile offenders.
Now Johnson, who was sentenced to life without parole, is seeking to be resentenced and receive a reduced term.
Johnson, 50, is arguing for resentencing under changes to the state’s felony-murder rule.
Previously, defendants could be found guilty of murder and sentenced to life terms in prison 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.
In 2019 the law, which applies retroactively, changed to require a person to actually commit or aid in 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 offense, whether it’s robbery, burglary, carjacking, or another serious crime.
In an opinion filed Monday, justices with the 5th District Court of Appeal overturned a Kern County judge’s ruling denying Johnson’s petition for resentencing. He’d been denied, in part, because the jury found true a special circumstance allegation that the killing occurred during a robbery.
Appellate court justices found that alone isn’t sufficient to bar Johnson from receiving a hearing. They ordered the case sent back to Kern to determine whether to vacate the murder conviction and resentence him.
A hearing date had not been set.
Investigators who examined Espinoza’s apartment in the 800 block of 17th Street found no usable fingerprints on the bag used to suffocate her or on a bloody knife, but Johnson’s fingerprints were located on a plastic bag containing videotapes, documents said. Prosecutors alleged Johnson sold a boombox stolen from the apartment.
Johnson and Carlson were arrested after Carlson’s girlfriend told police he shared details of the killing with her, according to police reports. Johnson and Carlson both initially denied involvement before each accused the other of killing Espinoza, the reports say.