California

Rocklin teen’s murder sentence on hold as appeals court weighs new juvenile justice law

Homicide of Rocklin girl investigated

A 14-year-old boy is in custody following the death of a 13-year-old girl at their Rocklin home.
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A 14-year-old boy is in custody following the death of a 13-year-old girl at their Rocklin home.

A state appellate court in Sacramento has indefinitely halted the sentencing of a Rocklin teen who bludgeoned his 13-year-old sister to death in 2016 as the legal battle over a controversial juvenile justice law grinds on in the courts.

Tanner Wood was 14 when he killed sister Ashley at the family’s Rocklin home in July 2016.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Arguelles ruled that Wood be tried as an adult on suspicion of murder in the case, but the teen last summer avoided a trial, agreeing to plead guilty to second-degree murder and receive a sentence of 16 years to life in state prison. As a condition of the deal, Wood would remain in juvenile custody until he turned 18, then be transferred to state prison to serve the remainder of his time.

But Senate Bill 1391, the newly enacted law that prohibits 14- and 15-year-olds from being tried as adults for murder and other serious crimes, cast Wood’s case into limbo.

In February, Arguelles ruled SB 1391 unconstitutional and said the sentencing he handed down could go forward. Wood attorney Kevin Adamson asked appellate judges for a stay of the proceedings.

After delays, sentencing was set for April 12, but the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal granted Adamson’s request “pending further order of this court” in a one-sentence order. The case is one of a number of SB 1391 juvenile cases across the state now in limbo as appellate judges consider the new law’s constitutional muster.

The cases include another Sacramento-area killing - the fatal November 2015 shooting of 17-year-old Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo. The Grant Union High School student-athlete was shot dead in a car full of his teammates at a north Sacramento intersection hours before a playoff game at the Del Paso Heights campus.

The alleged gunman, Keymontae Lindsey, was 15 at the time. The murder trial of Lindsey, now 18, remains on hold as appellate judges mull the new law.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1391 in October, expanding on criminal justice reforms laid out in 2016’s Proposition 57, with its goal of rehabilitating young offenders and reducing the number of incarcerated young people. Voters approved the proposition mandating that juvenile court judges, not prosecutors, decide whether minors younger than 16 should be tried as adults for serious crimes. Prior to Proposition 57, prosecutors could charge 14- and 15-year-olds as adults in cases of murder, arson, robbery, rape or kidnapping, subjecting them to longer sentences if convicted.

SB 1391 officially became law Jan. 1.

District attorneys in the Sacramento region and across the state have vigorously challenged the new law’s constitutionality in the local courts. They see SB 1391 as a threat to public safety, arguing it unduly takes away judges’ powers to decide when young defendants should stand trial in adult courts.

But judges’ rulings in Sacramento and in other counties have been mixed, throwing the disputed cases to the state’s appellate courts and setting up an inevitable showdown in the state Supreme Court.

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