FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — A woman who was a teenager when she participated in a burglary that led to the death of an 81-year-old Bakersfield woman could soon be eligible for release following an appellate court decision citing a controversial law that changed the state’s felony murder rule.
A Kern judge last year said Senate Bill 1437 was unconstitutional when he denied a motion to dismiss Angelique Nash’s murder conviction in the 2010 death of Dorothy Session. But the 5th District Court of Appeal on Monday published an opinion overturning that ruling, rejecting the trial court’s argument and sending the case back to Bakersfield for a hearing on a petition to vacate Nash’s murder conviction and resentence her.
The law is retroactive, and hundreds of defendants convicted under the felony murder rule have filed petitions to have their murder convictions dismissed.
Under the felony murder rule, 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.
Now, the law requires 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. Those who previously could have been charged with murder can now only be charged with the underlying crime, whether it’s robbery, burglary, carjacking or another serious crime.
Nash, then 17, served as a lookout while her sister, Katila Nash, and David Deshawn Moses entered Session’s home on Camino Sierra, north of Niles Street and east of Camino Primavera, thinking it was empty. Upon finding Session home, Moses hit her and he and the Nashes fled.
Session, left bleeding on the floor, died from the assault.
Moses was the only defendant to hit Session, but all three juveniles were charged with first-degree murder because the prosecution contended Session died as a result of their intent to commit a burglary.
The trial court last year rejected Angelique Nash’s petition for dismissal after finding SB 1437 unconstitutional because it effectively changed Proposition 7, which was adopted by voters during a statewide general election in 1978. Prop 7 increased the prison terms for first- and second-degree murder, plus established the felony murder rule. The judge said the legislature must take the law to the voters and let them decide.
The appellate court, however, found the law constitutional and noted there has been a “sea change” in state law when it comes to juvenile offenders.
“Given the legislative intent underlying Senate Bill No. 1437 and viewed in the context of broader changes in the law tightening the connection between criminal liability and individual culpability, we conclude that Senate Bill No. 1437, rather than impermissibly targeting a specific case or class of cases, is directed at broader penal reform,” the court wrote in its opinion.
Katila Nash, who was 15 at the time of the burglary, was released from custody last year after another law, SB 1391, stipulated anyone 15 or younger cannot be transferred to adult court for any crime — including murder. An appellate court ruled the law retroactively applied to Nash.
Moses has future hearings scheduled in which the defense plans to introduce mitigating factors regarding Moses’ youth and mental capacity at the time of his arrest. Those factors can then be heard at a future parole hearing.