Court re­jects 3 more cle­mency re­quests from Gov. Brown

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL MCGOUGH mm­c­[email protected] Michael McGough: 916-326-5508, @Mike_McGough

The Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court this week re­jected three more of Gov. Jerry Brown’s rec­om­men­da­tions to com­mute sen­tences of long­time prison in­mates who he be­lieved had re­formed be­hind bars, in­clud­ing a Sacra­mento man who beat a man to death in 1997.

The court in re­cent weeks now has de­nied 10 of Brown’s cle­mency ac­tions, the first time it has ex­er­cised that power in half a cen­tury.

The lat­est de­nials fol­lowed Brown’s an­nual Christ­mas Eve cle­mency ac­tions that in­cluded 143 par­dons and 131 com­mu­ta­tions. Nine of the 10 in­mates whose com­mu­ta­tions were re­jected had been con­victed of par­tic­i­pat­ing in homi­cides.

Brown’s cle­mency ac­tions are part of his ef­fort to re­think prison sen­tenc­ing in his sec­ond run as Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor. He has sought to pro­vide more op­por­tu­ni­ties for pa­role, aim­ing to give in­mates in­cen­tives to im­prove them­selves while in cus­tody. He has also handed down more par­dons and com­mu­ta­tions than any other Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor.

Jameel Coles, 40, of Sacra­mento took ev­ery op­por­tu­nity he could to gain ed­u­ca­tion and to men­tor other in­mates since he was sen­tenced to life in prison 20 years ago for his role in slay­ing a Merced County man who had agreed to give him a ride, ac­cord­ing to Brown’s Le­gal Af­fairs Of­fice.

Cole par­tic­i­pated in self-health groups, en­rolled in col­lege cour­ses, and ex­pressed re­gret for his ac­tions.

“Hurt peo­ple, hurt peo­ple,” he wrote when he ap­plied for cle­mency. He told the Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice that “shame and guilt lead to a cy­cle of hy­per-mas­cu­line choices,’ which was “com­pounded due to the fact that this hy­per mas­culin­ity was shaped by a false im­age of man­hood, which glo­ri­fied a crim­i­nal lifestyle and misog­yny.”

He worked as a chap­lain clerk for more than six years, ex­celled in slam po­etry com­pe­ti­tions and se­cured two as­so­ciate of arts de­grees, one in so­cial and be­hav­ioral sci­ence, Le­gal Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Peter Krause wrote.

The Supreme Court did not ex­plain its de­ci­sion to deny Coles’ com­mu­ta­tion. The Board of Pa­role Hear­ings re­ferred Coles’ cle­mency ap­pli­ca­tion to the gov­er­nor with a fa­vor­able rec­om­men­da­tion.

Cal­i­for­nia Chief Jus­tice Tani Can­til-Sakauye signed the re­jec­tion. Jus­tice Goodwin Liu voted in fa­vor of the rec­om­men­da­tion, ac­cord­ing to the court.

Nathaniel Thomp­son crossed paths with Coles on Dec. 4, 1997. Coles, his friend Dave Parker and three teenage girls were stranded in Merced County. Thomp­son agreed to give them a ride, ac­cord­ing to archived sto­ries by The Modesto Bee.

Thomp­son’s body was found the next day — beaten, suf­fo­cated and burned us­ing kerosene from a lantern, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said.

Krause, Brown’s at­tor­ney, used blunt lan­guage to de­scribe the crime in the rec­om­men­da­tion to com­mute Coles’ sen­tence.

“In 1997, at age 19, Mr. Coles and his crime part­ner stole a van, beat the van’s owner to death, then set the vic­tim’s body on fire.”

Dur­ing the 2000 trial, Coles said he kicked Thomp­son. He de­nied that he de­liv­ered fa­tal head blows and al­le­ga­tions that he hid ev­i­dence.

Coles at his trial said he could not leave the scene when his friend be­gan as­sault­ing Thomp­son. “Go­ing back home, if peo­ple found out I did that, I’d be in a lot of trou­ble.”

Parker, also of Sacra­mento, was found guilty and sen­tenced to life in prison. The two girls who pleaded guilty to mur­der were sen­tenced to the Cal­i­for­nia Youth Au­thor­ity while the third was re­leased af­ter time served.

Then-Merced County Deputy Dis­trict At­tor­ney Thomas Cooke read an emo­tional pre­pared state­ment at the trial on be­half of Thomp­son’s step­daugh­ter, Brenda French:

“My step­fa­ther pleaded for his life ... but no com­pas­sion or mercy was given to a man who had shown kind­ness to strangers.”

The court re­views cle­mency rec­om­men­da­tions re­lated to in­mates who com­mit­ted mul­ti­ple felonies. This week it ap­proved three of Brown’s orders.

The other two re­jected com­mu­ta­tions were for Thomas Marston, 58, who has served more than 34 years of a life sen­tence fol­low­ing his con­vic­tion on two counts of first­de­gree mur­der in Men­do­cino County; and Elaine Wong, 68, who has served 38 years of a life sen­tence fol­low­ing a 1980 Los An­ge­les County rob­bery in which she shot two peo­ple, struck an­other and set a fire.

‘‘ MY STEP­FA­THER PLEADED FOR HIS LIFE ... BUT NO COM­PAS­SION OR MERCY WAS GIVEN TO A MAN WHO HAD SHOWN KIND­NESS TO STRANGERS.

Brenda French

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