Three of five teens facing more than 100 years in prison each for their alleged roles in the home invasion-style robbery of a house party will ask a judge to send their cases to juvenile court, citing a new law passed by voters in November.
Wyatt Douglas Warnars, 17, is due in court Thursday, when a Superior Court judge will decide whether to transfer his case to juvenile court. His is one of six San Luis Obispo County cases in which adult criminal proceedings are currently suspended following the passage of Proposition 57, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jerret Gran said Tuesday.
The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act took the authority away from prosecutors to charge people under the age of 18 in adult court, instead requiring a judge’s approval. The law affects cases in progress as of Nov. 8.
“In an abundance of caution, we’re treating these cases as if they are potentially retroactive and asking the judge to decide,” Gran said. “We are confident in our (filing) decisions and that the juvenile cases we’ve chosen to direct file (in adult court) will be upheld. I think we’ve been very conservative.”
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Levi Cody Mattson, 17, and Marshal Ryan Kaplan, 16, have similar hearings scheduled in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in early March.
Warnars; Mattson; Kaplan; Donovan James Alvord, 19; and Albert Charles Heinicke Jr., 18, had been charged as adults for the July 20 armed robbery of a group of teens and young adults at a home in rural Templeton in which several partygoers suffered minor to serious injuries and several items, including a car, were stolen.
Gunshots allegedly were fired by at least one defendant during the incident, but no one was hurt by a gunshot, according to previous testimony.
Following three days of testimony in October by alleged victims and other witnesses present at the party, Superior Court Judge John Trice dismissed the most serious charges against the five — aggravated kidnapping, which carried a possible life sentence for each — and upheld 48 counts of first-degree residential burglary, home invasion robbery, criminal threats, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with a firearm and unlawfully taking a vehicle.
The charges vary by defendant but carry maximum sentences of more than 100 years in state prison each.
In November, Heinicke accepted a plea deal from the DA’s Office to testify against his former friends in exchange for no contest pleas and a maximum of eight years in prison. Deals offering sentences ranging from 14 to 26 years in prison have been presented to the other defendants.
Despite being an adult court judge, Trice last week was designated as the juvenile judge in the case and will preside over Warnars’ hearing Thursday. He is expected to hear testimony from Heinicke and other witnesses before a probation report is presented and arguments are heard.
David Vogel, Warnars’ attorney, said Tuesday his client is the least culpable of the defendants because he did not injure anyone and he confessed to investigators. Vogel said he’s hopeful Trice will transfer the case to juvenile court, where a punishment could be far less severe.
If that happens, the disposition of Warnars’ case will not be a matter of public record.