Updated 9/24/12 2:33 PM: Correct spelling of DDA Arisa Mattson's name, victim Rudy Delatorre's name, and add description of all six charged and convicted counts against defendant Giovanni Hernandez.
Updated 10:02 PM: add Lauren Sarene Key's name
September 21st, 2012
Today was Cameron Brown's 51st birthday. In less than two months, he will have been in LA County Sheriff's custody for nine years, waiting for his third trial in the alleged murder of his four-year-old daughter, Lauren Sarene Key.
8:21 AM I'm in the hallway on the 9th floor. The drive into downtown was slow but I lucked out when I got to the criminal court building; there was no security line and I was able to get an elevator pretty quickly.
After I arrived on the 9th floor, DDA Craig Hum arrived and we exchanged smiles. There was a young, pretty Asian woman with a short pixie haircut sitting on the bench across from me. She had a some sort of blue badge clipped to her shirt. Hum went up and spoke to her. From the way she is dressed, I'm guessing she is either clerking or interning on the case.
Dept. 107 opens up at 8:30 AM and we all trek inside. Judge Pastor's clerk, Sammie Benson is at her desk and Pat McNeal is at the court reporter's desk. There are two sheriff's looking over the courtroom and I overhear one say to the other, "They waxed our floors." Craig Hum goes up to Mrs. Benson's desk to check in with her. A few minutes later, Sammie and Pat talk about a CBS 48 Hours show.
Judge Pastor steps out into the courtroom as he's getting his robe on. He's wearing a white shirt and a very dark tie. It might be black. He speaks to Mrs. Benson for a moment. The other court reporter, Mavis, comes out and repositions her equipment. There are a few people in the gallery and I make a guess that they are either here for the current trial in progress or for a sentencing hearing. I overhear something about a death penalty case.
Another female deputy enters the courtroom so now there are three deputies besides the assigned bailiff. I'm guessing there will be a formal sentencing. The female deputy and another sheriff talk about the job and different assignments.
We're waiting on Mr. Laub who might be down in Dept. 102. Mrs. Benson can't seem to get her computer to come up.
8:45 AM, DDA Hum chats with the Asian woman who is sitting in the well with him. More people file into the gallery. Now I'm certain it's a sentencing hearing, as more and more people show up.
There is a bit of bustle going on in the well. Judge Pastor takes the bench. It appears we will no longer wait for Mr. Laub, and go forward with the sentencing hearing. A very young looking man is brought out. He's in a blue jumpsuit.
8:55 AM Mr. Laub shows up and he and DDA Hum smile and shake hands. I observe Hum and Laub in the well. Hum is listening to Laub and occasionally shaking his head or nodding his head. At the bench, the defense counsel for the sentencing hearing defendant asks for an off the record conversation with the judge. The prosecutor on that case and the defense attorney go up to the bench.
More people enter Dept. 107 for the sentencing. DDA Hum leaves for a moment and Laub chats with Mrs. Benson as Judge Pastor and the other counsel privately conference at the bench.
Laub chats with the new female deputy, shakes her hand and then leaves the courtroom. Mrs. Benson speaks to the deputies in the gallery.
9:00 AM DDA Hum reenters Dept. 107. The sentencing case is called to order. The defendant is Giovanni Hernandez. The court has reviewed a considerable sentencing memorandum. Ms. Mattson the prosecutor on the sentencing case tells Judge Pastor there are three individuals for the victims who wish to speak.
Gloria Ortiz (sp?) gets up to the podium to speak. She starts off by saying, "Gary Ortiz is my grandson..." But she could not continue. She was too emotional. Her sadness and crying affects me.
A young, sharply dressed woman (I believe the woman states her name is Patrica, and is a sister to one of the victims.) gets up to talk about a second victim, Rudy Delatorre. Rudy suffered three gunshot wounds, one of them was to the head. He is no longer capable to speak clearly or read. He's now 19 years of age and has had eight surgeries. She speaks about all of Rudy's health issues, and the fact that his health is still precarious, and he could die at any time. He still suffers from seizures that affect his cognitive abilities. It's quite sad to hear how disabled Rudy is from being shot in the head.
Another individual gets up to speak, a cousin of one of the victims. Then Mrs. Ortiz decides she can get up the courage to speak. She states she didn't know about Felecia. "I didn't know about that girl." (snip) She heard that "someone got killed."
That's it for victim witnesses.
The defense counsel, Mr. Schwartz (sp?) introduces two letters to give to the court. A Sister Claudia Romero (sp?) steps up to the podium to speak for the defendant. She got to know the family well. I note that the defendant turns his head slightly toward the speaker, but he does not turn his head to look. I don't know if that's because of the way he's shackled or not.
Sister Claudia states, "I knew him to be honest with me.... good with the staff. (snip) He did receive confirmation." She goes on to talk about Hernandez's good qualities that she observed.
The next witness to speak on the defendant's behalf is his older sister, Jessica (sp?) Hernandez. She speaks about juvenile hall. "He was hanging around the wrong people. That's true, but that's not been his (whole?) life." She talks about how Judge Pastor spoke at the first trial that this courtroom is a "temple of justice." He was "fourteen-year-old kid...at the time of the crime. (snip) Especially when that fourteen-year old kid is innocent. Hernandez's sister speaks for a long time on his behalf. At one point, I remember Judge Pastor telling her that he does not wish to hear the evidence in the case.
I don't recall if it was his sister, or Sister Claudia that spoke about all the positive influences in Giovanni's life, and some of the good things he had done before the incident as well as while in juvenile hall.
Then the defense attorney gets up to argue for leniency for his client. The defense maintains this was a case of mistaken identity. Schwartz speaks about how if Giovanni had been one year younger, he would not have been certified to adult court. Hernandez is facing a sentence where it is a certainty that he will die in prison. There were two victims in this crime.
DDA Mattson then gets up to argue sentencing. "There are four other attempted murders that he was convicted of." When I hear Mattson say that it shocks me. She makes a recommendation about one of the sentences. If I'm remembering correctly she states something to the effect that the defendant had many opportunities, many positive people in his life, but he still made a wrong choice.
Then Judge Pastor speaks. "This is the most unpleasant part of being a judge. Even though I may not like it, I must follow the law." There have been US Supreme Court and California Courts of Appeal rulings that puts the court in the appearance of an actuary. "This is quite honestly, the most difficult sentencing I've ever done. (snip) I invite appellate sentencing in this regard."
Then Pastor rules on each count. He rules on the murder, 25 years to life. He mentions about (indetem?) that makes the sentence 50 years to life. I'm betting this is either a gun use enhancement or a gang affiliation enhancement.
In regards to count two, three, four and five, "I want very much to sentence to (consecutive?) (snip) but I can't do it because of (prior court rulings?)... Judge Pastor mentions what he would like to do in regards to these counts, but he states he can't do it. For these charges, he sentences Giovanni to concurrent terms of 50 years to life. Judge Pastor talks about the sixth charge but I miss the sentence. He then stays that sentence. "If it was up to me, (I'd sentence you) to 160 years to life."
There's a bit more about court costs the defendant owes and then it's over. The deputies are ordered to get the gallery cleared one row at a time. Judge Pastor makes it clear to those in the gallery to wait until they are out in the elevator bay to talk about the case since he has a jury out in the hallway waiting now and he doesn't want them contaminated by this (sentencing hearing).
Additional Note: The defendant was convicted of 1 count PC 187(a) first degree murder of Gary Ortiz; 4 counts of attempted murder, PC 664/187(a), against Rudy Delatorre, Vanessa Garcia, Sophia Garcia, Victor Garcia; 1 count PC 246, shooting at an occupied vehicle. All special allegations were found to be true. Sprocket.
At 10:20 AM, Judge Pastor asks to see counsel on the Brown case. They appear to be going over calendar dates. Judge Pastor is behind. His current case, counsel has arrived and he's 1/2 hour behind the scheduled start time for today. Pastor goes on the record, but Brown is not brought out. He's received a (defense?) motion, (having to do with documents?) but he's not able to deal with it now. A new court date is scheduled, October 2nd at 8:30 AM. (I'm bummed about that date since there is also a hearing for Kelly Soo Park in Dept 109.) On that date, Brown's case calendar will be set at 11 of 120. He's signed an order for temporary release of exhibits so they can be digitized. Judge Pastor will release the exhibits on September 25th. Laub told the court that he had received many boxes from the firm of Geragos & Geragos, (I missed hearing how many) but I believe he then said, there were "nineteen more" still to be received from the prior law firm.
This tells me several things. Laub has probably not reviewed a single prior trial transcript on this case yet. It's a good bet that this case will not go to trial until next spring at the earliest. I don't know what I'm going to do about October 2nd. I sometimes wish there was a way to clone myself when it comes to competing hearings. On a side note, no one from Brown's family showed up for this court hearing or the prior one on July 27th. I wonder if Patty Kaldis Brown is still married to Cameron, or if she has taken a job and couldn't get time off.