Decision to let skateboard killer out early is troubling

Gov. Jerry Brown made the right call in blocking Roberto Holguin’s release

letters@thetribunenews.comApril 10, 2014 

It astounds us that a juvenile parole board would have voted to release convicted murderer Roberto Holguin after he threatened to shoot Gov. Jerry Brown and filled a journal with “many references to violence.” That’s on top of the heinous crime that put him in custody in the first place.

Some background: Holguin was just 13 when he bludgeoned 87-year-old Gerald O’Malley to death with a skateboard. Had he been 14, Holguin could have been tried as an adult and sent to prison for life, but because of his age he was tried as a juvenile.

While Holguin can be kept in custody until age 25, the juvenile parole board voted last month to release him now.

Had that decision stood, Holguin could have been sent to a half-way house or County Jail — or, worse yet, he could have been released outright under the supervision of County Probation. Thankfully, the governor intervened to prevent that, which is how information about Holguin’s threat to shoot Gov. Brown came to light.

This was no offhand verbal boast; Holguin went to some lengths to communicate his threat to the governor. As detailed in Wednesday’s article by Tribune reporter Pat Pemberton, Holguin hacked into a stateowned computer to gain access to the governor’s website. He then sent the governor an email that said, in part, “you better hope i never see you i will shoot you with a real gun.”

That message was sent in June 2012. In the investigation that followed, a journal was discovered in Holguin’s room at Patton State Hospital that included violent references and “an interest in fame, violence and ‘media violence.’ ”

Yet not even two years later, a juvenile parole board votes unanimously to release Holguin? Were parole board members not fully aware of Holguin’s troubling history while in custody? Or did they not think it warranted more time at a secure state facility, where he could continue to receive treatment?

Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing: Because it is a juvenile proceeding, “everything that goes on with this case is considered confidential,” said Bill Sessa, information officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

We find the parole board’s decision deeply troubling, and we commend the county District Attorney’s Office for pursuing the matter by filing an appeal with the governor. A big share of credit also is due to Gov. Brown, who personally called the county Probation Department to gather additional information on the case.

Ultimately, the governor decided to block Holguin’s release: “I remain deeply troubled by his continued threats of significant violence,” he wrote.

It was a highly unusual move on the governor’s part; Sessa, a 10-year employee of CDCR, told us he could not recall a similar case in which the governor blocked the release of a juvenile offender.

We hate to think that a 13-year-old is so irredeemable that he can never be returned to society. But we would need strong evidence of a total turnaround to support early release of someone with such a violent past.

We don’t see it here. Remember, it was a grown man — not a 13-year-old boy — who threatened to shoot the governor and who filled a journal with talk of attacks and machine guns.

We don’t believe a halfway house, County Jail or County Probation can provide the support and supervision that this troubled and violent young man obviously needs.

The District Attorney’s Office and the governor made the right call.

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