A Fresno man who killed a man, cut out his heart and put it in his pocket in 1984 will get another chance at freedom today, and a state Supreme Court ruling could help his case.
Theodore Allen LeLeaux Jr., who is serving 16 years to life in prison for killing 25-year-old Kenneth Carlock, was granted parole last year, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blocked his release.
LeLeaux, now 48, will try again at a hearing inside the California Men’s Colony, San Luis Obispo.
This time there’s a difference: the California Supreme Court in August 2008 set a new standard for determining whether to grant parole. Now heinousness of the crime is not enough to deny parole; "current danger" to the community also must be considered.
Legal experts say that even with that standard, the governor can still reverse a parole board decision and keep an inmate in prison.
"You won’t see Charlie Manson getting out any time soon," said Laurie Levenson, professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School.
But Gayle McCracken of Fresno, sister of the victim, is worried. She’ll be at the hearing arguing against parole for the man who killed her brother. She says LeLeaux is "an animal" who "should never be set free."
Attorney T. Worthington Vogel of the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office will be there, too. He’s concerned LeLeaux’s chances might be improved by a couple of things.
The state prison system is badly crowded, and the high court ruling gives the parole board something new to consider.
The decision upheld the release of inmate Sandra Davis Lawrence of Los Angeles, who spent nearly 24 years in prison for using a pistol and a potato peeler to kill her lover’s wife in a jealous rage.
Because of Lawrence’s good behavior behind bars, the state parole board had approved her release four times since 1993, but three governors, including Schwarzenegger, blocked it.
The court ruling appears to have had an effect. The parole board held 7,303 hearings in 2008 and granted release dates for 294 inmates serving indeterminate sentences, according to state figures.
This year, as of Sept. 30, there have been 5,331 hearings, and release dates set for 392 inmates. It is unclear how many of those cases involved murder and figures were unavailable Monday on how many of those parole decisions Schwarzenegger blocked.
LeLeaux has had at least eight parole hearings since he went to prison. He pleaded guilty in March 1985 in Fresno County Superior Court to second-degree murder. At his sentencing, he said, "All I can say is that what happened was an accident and that I thank God I cannot remember the details."
Fresno police say LeLeaux and Carlock worked for the same courier service. On June 5, 1984, Carlock’s mutilated body was discovered inside his North Marks Avenue apartment. Detectives found signs of a struggle inside the apartment, as well as LeLeaux’s pager, bloody work shirt, and shoes, court records show. The next day, LeLeaux, then 23, was arrested in Madera on suspicion of burglary. Carlock’s heart was discovered in his jacket pocket, police said.
"This is a bizarre case," Vogel said. The killing was gruesome, and LeLeaux "has never explained why he did it."
McCracken said she has attended nearly every one of LeLeaux’s parole hearings. "I promised Kenny I would fight for him until the day I die," she said. But her quest hasn’t been easy.
For years, McCracken and her mother, Helen Carlock, would attend LeLeaux’s hearings. They would bring signed petitions and had the support of victims groups, McCracken said.
Their anguish intensified on Sept. 7, 1993, when Carlock’s second son, Brian, was shot in Fresno. The case was never solved.
Their momentum changed in 2000, when McCracken’s 16-year-old son, Michael, was arrested in the stabbing death of 70-year-old John Renna of Fresno. Michael McCracken later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, burglary and car theft, and was sentenced to nearly 33 years to life in prison.
Since then, Gayle McCracken said, the petition drives and support from crime groups have ended.
And for the first time, McCracken will be at LeLeaux’s parole hearing without her mother, who died Sept. 6. McCracken said she plans to stare at LeLeaux with thoughts of hitting him in the head with a chair.
"He’s evil," she said. "He’s never shown a bit of remorse."
McCracken cries easily, especially when her thoughts shift to her son, Michael. He has not yet had a parole hearing.
"He deserves mercy, because he was just a mixed-up kid when it happened," Gayle McCracken said.
On the other hand, LeLeaux "was an adult and he knew what he was doing," McCracken said. "My son didn’t cut someone’s heart out."