Bill Watch Sentencing Sentencing Reform

With SB 1437, Gov. Brown Unravels California’s Long-Standing Felony Murder

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Under California’s current felony murder rule, individuals involved in serious crimes that result in someone’s death face murder charges as if they were the killer, even if they had no intent or knowledge that a person would be injured or killed, or that a weapon was present.

One Riverside County man, Shawn Khalifa, is serving a 25-to-life sentence for murdering an elderly man named Hubert Love when Khalifa was 15. But Khalifa didn’t kill Love. Khalifa didn’t even go near the man.

Instead, the teen guarded the back door before sneaking inside to steal chocolates. Khalifa ran out of Love’s house when he saw that his friends had hurt the older man. Because Khalifa was among a group of teenagers who broke into Love’s house looking for cash, and because one of those teens killed Love, Khalifa was convicted of first-degree murder under the state’s felony murder rule. He has served 14 years in prison for Love’s murder.

The Marshall Project, in collaboration with the New York Times, tells Khalifa’s story, as well as the stories of other youths ensnared by the felony murder law, including a group of teens in the Malibu area. In 1995, five high schoolers went to another teen’s house to either purchase marijuana or steal from another teen, Mike McLoren, in 1995.

McLoren, a 17-year-old who sold marijuana out of a fort in his mom’s backyard, got into a fight with the youngest of the five visitors, 15-year-old Micah Holland. Micah’s older brother Jason Holland, then 18, tried to stop McLoren, who was reportedly severely beating Micah. Jason ultimately used a 2-inch pocketknife to stab McLoren and McLoren’s 15-year-old friend Jimmy Farris, the son of an LAPD officer. Farris died of his wounds.

Jason Holland is serving a life sentence for the terrible and accidental killing of Farris. Micah Holland, and two of their friends, Brandon Hein and Anthony Miliotti, are also serving life sentences, even though they did not kill Farris, thanks to the felony murder rule. Another teen, Chris Vellardo, who remained in the car the entire time, pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Over the weekend, Governor Jerry Brown signed Sen. Nancy Skinner’s landmark SB 1437, severely restricting the scope of felony murder in CA.

Under the new law, only individuals who actually kill, who intend to kill, aid the actual murderer, or who show “reckless indifference to human life” during the course of committing a serious felony that results in murder will face murder charges. There’s one major caveat, however. If the victim is a law enforcement officer, the old felony murder rule still applies.

“Most people have no idea that under California’s current murder statute you can be charged with murder and given a life sentence even if you didn’t kill or have a direct role in a murder,” said Senator Skinner. “SB 1437 is a fair and reasonable fix to California’s unjust felony murder rule.”

The new law will also clear a path for people previously sentenced under the felony murder rule to apply for a resentencing hearing.

The bill was backed by dozens of advocacy groups, as well as the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and District Attorney George Gascón have announced they will review past felony murder cases for SB 1437 eligibility.

Opposition included the LA County District Attorney’s Office, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA), and a more than 10 law enforcement unions from Los Angeles, Riverside, and the state.

The ADDA said the bill will give hundreds of inmates “early release from prison, and future defendants will be able to escape punishment for the natural and probable results of a crime in which they willingly participated.”

Moreover, according to the ADDA, SB 1437 is the product of “a twisted world where criminal defendants are now considered ‘victim.'”

Those who do not commit murder should not be punished as if they had, according to Sen. Skinner.

“California’s murder statute irrationally treated people who did not commit murder the same as those who did,” said Skinner. “SB 1437 makes clear there is a distinction, reserving the harshest punishment to those who directly participate in the death. I’m proud and thankful that Governor Brown signed this historic reform into law.”

With SB 1437, California joins other states, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Michigan, that have narrowed their outdated felony murder rules, Skinner added.

9 Comments

  • Lol!!!! You can’t make this shit up. Criminals and Illegal Immigrants rule the roost!!!

    Law Abiding Citizens can go to hell in California.

  • Ownership, yup, would not be surprised for WitLA soon to rejoice in headline “Gov. Brown signs bill to legalize Robbery for poor”

  • Ya, we was just fidden to steal some chocolates , or I was just trying to help my brother that’s why I knifed that kid to death. Clueless la, you girls need to get out of your bubbles, it’s embarrassing.

  • Taylor, there is much to debate about the felony murder rule but what’s up with the sentence “the terrible and accidental killing of Farris” in the Malibu case? What’s accidental about someone dying after being stabbed? Did I miss something?

  • While some modifications to accommodate unusual circumstances might have been appropriate, it appears that as usual, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.

    I question the wisdom of some (not all) of the criminal “reforms” that have occurred over the last several years. Would really appreciate an article about what violent and property crime rates in Los Angeles and San Diego Counties are looking like from 2010 (pre AB 109) to the present.

  • Ownership, you forgot to add that the sky is falling. Should someone really get charged with murder because some bad shot, useless cowboy cop starts shooting into a Trader Joe’s full of customers? Really? Whether you go out for murder or some lesser charge depends on whether a glorified security guard is a good shot or not? I think we established that the last good shot in the LAPD was Officer Dorner, and I don’t think he still on the force.

    Just Say’n, really? No one is setting anyone free, you just dont get charged with murder when you did not commit the murder. You’re still going to prison.

    Major Kong, “fidden?” Is that your black impression. You could have easily have commented on the parenting skills of the fine LAPD officer whose son was killed for hanging around the young man selling weed or possibly selling weed himself. What a fine parent that officer was. Reminds me of another fine officer, Daryl Gates, who was knocking down houses looking for a rock, and could not keep his son off drugs. My understanding is that you fine officers also make fine parents and husbands.

    Finally, perhaps you missed the most important piece. They say, “If the victim is a law enforcement officer, the old felony murder rule still applies.” So, you are still worth more than others. So, why whine.

    • In other news, finally the world witnessed justice as the jury convicted the loose cannon, over zealous, ex Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke of 1st degree murder.

  • Cf, you giving up on the “jc” persona? You best watch the Dorner guff least you get taken to the woodshed again.

    • The Dorner manifesto was highly believable as his description of what he endured happens more often than not. I personally drew the line and make no excuses for him when he murdered fellow LEO’S and civilians.

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