Two weeks after a juvenile parole board voted to discharge a man who committed a murder at age 13, Gov. Jerry Brown reversed the decision Monday night, saying the convicted killer had threatened to shoot him months ago and had fantasized about becoming famous through acts of violence.
Roberto Holguin, now 22, bludgeoned Gerald O’Malley, 87, of San Luis Obispo, with a skateboard on Feb. 27, 2005. Because he was under 14 at the time, Holguin could not be tried as an adult.
After he was convicted of first-degree murder, he was sent to Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center and Clinic in Norwalk. Due to mental health issues, he was later transferred to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County.
The Tribune has previously withheld the man’s name because he was a juvenile at the time of the offense. But The Tribune has decided to use his name at this time because the alleged threats to the governor were made as an adult.
Holguin could stay in the custody of the state’s juvenile justice system until he is 25. But last month, the California Juvenile Parole Review Board unanimously voted for his release based on recent progress while in custody.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, which had argued against his release before the board, appealed to the governor’s office.
On Monday afternoon, the governor personally called the county probation department and spoke to chief probation officer Jim Salio about the board’s recommendation.
“I didn’t think his release was appropriate,” Salio told both Brown and The Tribune.
During the 10-minute conversation, Salio said, both Brown and his deputy of legal affairs gathered further information to determine what their next step would be.
A little after 8:30 Monday night, Brown made his decision. In a summary sent to various county agencies, he wrote, “I remain deeply troubled by his continued threats of significant violence.”
Were it not for Brown’s reversal, Holguin would have been discharged from state custody Wednesday. District Attorney Gerry Shea released a statement Tuesday thanking Brown for the reversal.
“Mr. Holguin’s commitment offenses and subsequent behavior while in custody show that he still poses a substantial and unreasonable risk to public safety,” Shea said.
Holguin's attorney, Theresa Klein, said she is looking into their options at this time. "We were surprised at the late change and were told about it an hour before Roberto was scheduled to have his re-entry hearing," she said.
In his explanation, Brown laid out the facts of the case — noting that after the murder, the teen had drawn a cartoon devil on a blackboard in O’Malley’s home and later padlocked O’Malley’s front door before joyriding in the dead man’s car.
While he was at Patton State Hospital, the governor wrote, Holguin hacked into a state-owned computer to access the governor’s website. Once there, he sent an email directed toward the governor. The email, containing vulgar language, included the line, “you better hope i never see you i will shoot you with a real gun” before concluding, “have a nice day and god bless.”
The email was traced to Holguin during an investigation by the CHP, the FBI’s Cyber Crimes Task Force and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
During the investigation, a journal was found in Holguin’s room that included “many references to violence, veiled threats regarding a possible attack, lists of pistols, rifles, machine guns, explosives, and tactical gear, an interest in fame, violence and ‘media violence.’ ”
A disciplinary report from the Division of Juvenile Justice, the governor went on, described the journal as “ideation that violence will fulfill his destiny. … He (wrote) about violence, his capability of violence, and eventually dying in fulfilling that.”
Before one hearing for potential release, Holguin allegedly informed staff that he would re-offend if released, the governor wrote.
Despite those actions, the board had recommended Holguin’s release, citing coping skills, articulation of remorse, recent mental stability, participation in counseling sessions and support groups for the past year, along with lack of serious misconduct since 2012.
Brown acknowledged that Holguin has earned a high school diploma and has learned some coping skills through intensive therapy sessions during his 16 months at Patton.
Still, Brown wrote, he is not convinced that Holguin has the emotional development and maturity to ensure public safety.
“These recent actions demonstrate a deeply disturbed pattern of thinking that I am not willing to set aside after only a few months of therapy and good behavior,” Brown wrote.
“They are particularly significant in the context of the heinous murder he committed and his history of threats and violence during his commitment to the Division of Juvenile Justice. Mr. Holguin has not behaved in a manner that assures me that he is willing to turn away from his history of — and fascination with — violence.”
Had Brown not intervened, Holguin would have become a ward of the county, which would have decided in a court hearing Tuesday where he would go — either released outright, sent to a halfway house or County Jail. The county’s probation department would have been in charge of his supervision.
But Brown’s decision ensures that he will remain a ward of the state.
During Holguin’s trial, his attorneys argued that he had a low IQ related to brain damage and was unable to distinguish right from wrong.
He was sentenced to 42 years to life in prison. But because he was convicted as a juvenile, he cannot be detained past December of 2016, when he turns 25.