By Michele Hanisee
Warning: Story contains graphic content that may disturb readers
We are compelled to write a follow-up to our blog “Legislature and Governor to Victims: Drop Dead” to specifically address how SB 1391 is a brutal slap in the face to victims of rape committed by 14- and 15-year-old juveniles.
The number of juveniles who are tried as adults is relatively rare; The Chronicle of Social Change wrote that only 32 youths statewide were transferred to be tried as a adults the year after Proposition 57 passed. Those who are transferred to adult courts are sent there because their crimes are especially violent, serious or sophisticated. These have included, on rare occasions, juvenile defendants as young as 14 and 15 years old who have been charged with violent rapes. One such rape case from Los Angeles County vividly illustrates the fact that there are some 14 and 15-year-olds who should be tried and sentenced in adult court.
Nine days before his 15th birthday, Michael Bell and his accomplice (who was described as being around the same age as Bell, and who never caught as Bell refused to name him) knocked on the door of the home where a friend lived. Bell’s friend, also a minor, answered the door. Bell and his accomplice, who was secretly armed with a gun, asked to use the house phone. After being invited inside, Bell’s accomplice pulled out the gun, put it to the friend’s head, and demanded the video gaming equipment. When the friend’s mother appeared and observed Bell and his accomplice taking the video game, she asked them to leave.
Bell and his accomplice then went to another home down the block. The residents were known to Bell as he had previously lived in the property to the rear. Bell and his accomplice again knocked on the door and asked to use the phone. When the resident, Ms. M. declined, the two entered the home. When Mrs. M. demanded to know what they were doing, Bell and his accomplice told her to shut up, and said that they were going to kill her.
The accomplice then pointed the gun at the head of Ms. M.’s eight-year-old son and demanded to know where Ms. M’s money was. Bell then took the gun from his accomplice, put it to Ms. M’s head, and told her that she was going to give him “head.” Bell forced Ms. M. into the kitchen where he ripped off her sweater and ordered her to remove her pants and underclothes.
While Bell held the gun to Ms. M’s head, she performed oral sex on him. She could see her son on the sofa as she did so. Bell then forced Ms. M. to lie on the floor saying, “you’re going to like this.” He raped her repeatedly while holding the gun to her head. Ms. M’s son was on the sofa, screaming, as his mother was raped in front of him. During the rape by Bell, the accomplice entered the kitchen looking for beer. Bell asked his accomplice if he wanted “some of this” (referring to Ms. M.).
>After the rape, Ms. M. ran for the door to escape, but the two men caught her and pushed her onto the couch where her son was still sitting. The accomplice then took Ms. M. back to the kitchen where he sexually assaulted her in multiple ways.
When the rape by the accomplice was over, Ms. M’s son tried to cover her with a blanket. Bell approached Ms. M. yet again, demanded she give him her jewelry, then ordered her to wash herself at the kitchen sink. Bell’s accomplice demanded Ms. M’s car keys, which she gave him. The accomplice then went outside to the car. Bell took the still naked Ms. M. back into the kitchen where he raped her again, not stopping until the accomplice came back into the house and told him “C’mon.” The accomplice told Bell they would take Ms. M. with them. They both forced her to walk out of the house towards her running car. The victim managed to break away and run screaming down the street, where she was rescued by a neighbor.
Take a moment to read the heartbreaking transcript for the sentencing hearing in which the victim recounted the continuing trauma she and her son suffered as a result of Bell’s brutal crimes. After Ms. M. concluded her statements, the judge observed that while she spoke, Bell “sat there with a smirk spreading across his face.”
The Judge imposed a sentence of 53 year-to-life stating: “It is this court’s intention this defendant never, never get out of prison. This defendant is incapable of being rehabilitated. This defendant is not someone who should ever be allowed into society.” Bell has demonstrated the truth of the Judge’s statement; he has twice been convicted of felony assault while in prison.
We recite these raw and undiluted facts because they illustrate how wrong SB 1391 is in its attempt to offer “a one-size-fits-all approach to juvenile crime cases that are complex and different.” As we noted, the average juvenile rapist who is not tried as an adult will serve a scant 28 months in custody. For this rape victim and her son, for any rape victim, their trauma does not and will not end in 28 months.
Since his conviction, Bell has taken advantage of any change in the law to apply to have his conviction overturned or his sentence reduced. He is presently on his sixth appeal. With SB 1391 becoming law, there is no doubt he will seek to be released under its auspices.
On September 30, 2018, Governor Brown touted that he signed a package of bills to “Protect and Support Women, Children, and Working Families.” Apparently, women who are rape victims, or children forced to witness the rape of their mother, didn’t quite fit in to those bills.
The Governor has made clear his beliefs about the criminal justice system when campaigning for Prop 57: “Aren’t redemption and forgiveness what it’s all about?” He might want to give the victim and her son in the Bell case a call and explain redemption and forgiveness, and why it is best for society that Michael Bell be released. We have her number if the Governor has the courage to call her.
Note: The ADDA does not publish the name(s) of victims of sexual assault. Therefore, some of the court transcript was redacted.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.