Bad Judgment on Deadly Violence

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California’s 2016 Proposition 57 barred the direct filing of juvenile cases in adult court, whatever the gravity of the offense. The 2018 California Senate Bill 1391 barred the prosecution of 14- and 15-year-olds in adult court, even if they commit multiple murders. As the case of Larry Ray Richey shows, judges are also going easy on adults who commit deadly acts of violence.

“This is a tragic case. Both families have suffered a loss. One family has suffered the death of their patriarch. Another family has lost a son for a stupid act in which he lost control.” That was Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang, a former deputy attorney general and legal affairs secretary for California Gov. Gray Davis, who appointed her a superior court judge in 2002. Given the facts of the case, both families present for the March 22 court date might have wondered about Chang’s pronouncement.

Back in 2016, Lawrence Windham, 85, pulled into a gas station, where Larry Ray Richey, 21, complained that Windham had pulled too close to his car. Richey then attacked and pummeled Windham, breaking his jaw in two places. The 85-year-old died later that day, but Richey was not charged with manslaughter. In early February, Richey was found guilty of “felony elder abuse and battery causing great bodily injury.” Nancy Windham, Lawrence Windham’s wife of 63 years, wrote in a request for the maximum sentence of 10 years. On March 22, Chang sentenced Richey to eight years in state prison, two years short of the maximum. The light sentence was not all that Nancy Windham and daughter Debbie McKinney might have wondered about.

Judge Chang described Richey’s attack on Windham as “stupid,” a term that might better apply to some harmless error in judgement. The deliberate and unprovoked attack of a 21-year-old on a man of 85 might better be described as “vicious.” Likewise, “abuse” might be appropriate for mistreatment of an elderly man, but not an act of violence that causes his death.

Judge Chang said Richey “lost control,” but by all indications, his attack was deliberate and calculated. The idea that the assailant “lost control” sounds like an argument from Richey’s attorney, not an allegedly impartial judge. Most of all, the Windham family might wonder about judge Chang’s pronouncement that “both families have suffered a loss.”

The Windham family “suffered the death of their patriarch.” Another family, Chang said, “has lost a son,” but the son had not died, like Lawrence Windham. Larry Ray Richey is alive, uninjured and received only eight years for an attack that took another man’s life. The Windham family, and crime victims across the state, can be forgiven for believing that this is a miscarriage of justice. And as they might note Judge Chang’s term ends in 2023.

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