Sunday, February 23, 2014

Firpo Responds to Plea Deal Critics

Posted By on Sun, Feb 23, 2014 at 9:14 AM

click to enlarge Elan Firpo
  • Elan Firpo
The Elan Firpo for District Attorney campaign issued a press release Saturday in response to criticism the candidate has received for a plea agreement she reached in a fatal Arcata stabbing case.

“Some decisions are not universally popular,” Firpo states in the release. “It is the job of the District Attorney’s office to make tough decisions based entirely on the facts that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to all twelve jurors. That is what I did here. I’m not proud of this disposition, and it doesn’t feel like justice to the victim’s family or myself. Unfortunately, it is the reality of the situation under the law.”

Earlier this month, news broke that 35-year-old Juan Ferrer had pleaded not contest to aggravated involuntary manslaughter stemming from the November stabbing death of Douglas Anderson-Jordet, a local chef, in downtown Arcata. Firpo, a deputy district attorney, negotiated the plea deal that will likely see Ferrer serve about two years in county jail. Backlash to the deal was swift, and to date two of Firpo’s three campaign opponents — former prosecutors Allan Dollison and Arnie Klein — have publicly criticized Firpo’s pleading a murder charge down to involuntary manslaughter in the case.

In the release, Firpo offers her rundown of facts in the case and closes with a jab at her opponents, who she says are forcing a public airing of the case that Anderson-Jordet’s family had hoped to avoid.

“They had hoped to avoid exactly this public forum discussion,” Firpo states. “Unfortunately, my opponents, who are long on rhetoric and short on facts, have attempted to take advantage of this unfortunate case to their political advantage.”

Past Journal coverage of the plea deal can be found here, and includes a rundown of the known facts of the case, comments from Ferrer’s defense attorney and a breakdown of California homicide law.

See the entire press release from the Firpo camp below.

Press release from the Elan Firpo for District Attorney campaign:

Ms. Firpo responds to concerns about Ferrer disposition

I understand the community concern about the disposition in the Ferrer case. On its face, a man is killed and the man that did the killing is sentenced to 4 years in jail, of which he will serve 2 years.

But the facts not previously made available to the public paint a different picture. After reviewing hours of video, talking with independent witnesses and reviewing the autopsy results, discussing the evidence with law enforcement and the family of the victim, it became clear that this was a case of manslaughter – not murder.

The facts would have shown that:

• Mr. Anderson-Jordet, the victim, was inflamed in his demeanor that evening. A bartender would have testified that the Victim was making homophobic statements to other patrons that evening before the incident.

• An independent witness would have testified that she overheard the argument between the parties and that the victim was yelling homophobic, sexist, hateful statements at the defendants.

• Video surveillance showed that the victim was behind the defendants walking down the street, and the victim was overheard to yell at the defendants “I am still behind you”.

• The defendant’s would have testified that the victim approached them in an angry manner and took a swing at them. And that he was a stranger to them, with whom they had no prior quarrel.

• The defense would have brought testimony that the victim was an angry person when he had been drinking, and occasionally used street drugs. The People would have brought testimony that the victim was a hard working man with a good job.

• The autopsy results show that the victim died of one knife wound, at a severe angle, that unfortunately pierced the victim’s heart.

A jury trial in this case would have become a trial of the victim’s character, for the determination of whether this was voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. The People would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were NOT defending themselves in a hate crime.

In a best case jury trial scenario, Mr. Ferrer would have been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He would have been sentenced to a term of three years in prison (because he has no prior record), of which he would have served 85%, or approximately 2 years and 6 months. A plea agreement was reached to ensure that Mr. Ferrer would serve the maximum term for involuntary manslaughter allowed by law: 4 years, which, owing to the Governor’s Realignment Program, he will serve 2 years in county jail.

In other words, a best-case-scenario result at jury trial would have resulted in an additional 6 months of custody time for Mr. Ferrer.

The family and involved law enforcement officers were consulted before a plea was made. We agreed, after careful consideration of the evidence and the law, that this was the best disposition for the case. It doesn’t bring back Mr. Anderson-Jordet, and nobody is “happy” about this disposition.

Some decisions are not universally popular. It is the job of the District Attorney’s office to make tough decisions based entirely on the facts that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to all twelve jurors. That is what I did here. I’m not proud of this disposition, and it doesn’t feel like justice to the victim’s family or myself. Unfortunately, it is the reality of the situation under the law.

The family of Mr. Anderson-Jordet have reviewed this letter, and are disappointed that it had to be written. They had hoped to avoid exactly this public forum discussion. Unfortunately, my opponents, who are long on rhetoric and short on facts, have attempted to take advantage of this unfortunate case to their political advantage.

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