An 18-year-old man — accused of hitting a victim in the head with a baseball bat during a July home-invasion robbery in rural Templeton — will spend eight years in state prison in exchange for testifying against his former friends, now co-defendants, according to a plea deal reached in court Wednesday.
The other four defendants in the robbery, which left several partygoers injured, have plea deals on the table that offer sentences ranging from 14 to 26 years in prison, depending on the individual defendant’s alleged actions during the robbery.
However, three juvenile defendants being charged as adults in the case could have their cases kicked back to juvenile court after California voters last week passed a ballot initiative that requires a judge — not prosecutors — to decide whether to charge minors as adults.
Should all five go to trial and be convicted on all counts, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 107 to 127 years in state prison, according to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.
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Donovan James Alvord, 19; Albert Charles Heinicke Jr., 18; Levi Cody Mattson and Wyatt Douglas Warnars, both 17; and Marshal Ryan Kaplan, 16, each face 48 felony charges that include aggravated kidnapping, first-degree residential burglary, home-invasion robbery, criminal threats, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with a firearm and unlawfully taking a vehicle.
Each is accused of participating in a violent armed robbery of a group of young adults partying at a rural Templeton home in the early morning hours of July 20. Several partygoers were beaten and had property — including cars — stolen. All five defendants were arrested within 24 hours.
The five defendants initially were facing additional kidnapping charges — each carrying a potential life sentence — but those were dropped by Superior Court Judge John Trice at an Oct. 12 preliminary hearing.
Courthouse sources have since dubbed the group “The Templeton 5.”
On Thursday, Heinicke accepted the district attorney’s offer of a sentence of eight years in state prison, contingent on his truthful testimony.
Since the October preliminary hearing, Heinicke spent about four hours being interviewed by district attorney investigators, who reviewed his side of the story before deciding to make him the offer. Following his acceptance of the deal Thursday, attorneys for the four remaining defendants will receive transcripts of his interview for review before they decide whether to accept their respective deals at a future hearing.
The judge issued a protective order sealing those transcripts from public disclosure.
But family members of both the victims and other defendants claim Heinicke, 18, was one of the leaders of the group and drove one of the cars involved in the robbery. He also is accused of having picked up a baseball bat during the robbery and striking one of the victims in the back of the head, according to previous testimony.
According to a document drafted by Deputy District Attorney Lindsey Bittner and sent to defense attorneys following the preliminary hearing, the District Attorney’s Office offered Heinicke two options. First, he could plead no contest to robbery, assault and false imprisonment charges; testify against his friends; and serve eight years in state prison. Without his testimony, Bittner offered him 15 years in state prison for no contest pleas.
Heinicke was the only defendant offered a deal in exchange for testimony.
Alvord, the oldest of the group at 19, was offered a state prison sentence of 14 years and four months in exchange for no contest pleas to seven counts of robbery, attempted robbery, assault, false imprisonment and vehicle theft.
Mattson, 17, was offered 14 years and eight months in state prison in exchange for no contest pleas to five counts of false imprisonment, assault and vehicle theft.
Warnars, 17, is accused of brandishing a handgun, according to testimony. He was offered a 19-year prison sentence in exchange for no contest pleas to false imprisonment and using a firearm during the commission of a crime.
Kaplan, the youngest of the group at 16, was offered the heaviest sentence — 26 years — in exchange for no contest pleas to false imprisonment using a firearm, assault and vehicle theft. Kaplan is accused of having discharged a handgun during the robbery.
One of the victims’ parents, who spoke to The Tribune on condition that her name not be published, said she and other parents were concerned the deals did not reflect the level of each defendants’ participation in the crime. Heinicke, she said, was one of the oldest and apparent leaders of the group and didn’t deserve the deal, she said.
“The (victims’) parents have provided support for each other,” the mother said. “The majority of us were upset with this (deal). We spoke up and said we’re not OK with this. They’re basically victimizing us again.”
Despite the plea deal, the case may be stalled as the court decides what, if any, impact the passage of Proposition 57 has on the case. The initiative requires judges to decide if juveniles are tried in adult court. Trice will rule at a Proposition 57 hearing whether the new law’s effect is retroactive in the case. If he finds it is retroactive, Mattson, Warnars and Kaplan may be tried in juvenile court without a jury and where sentences could be far less severe.
That hearing is scheduled for Dec. 20.