By Michele Hanisee
This past Sunday, a rapist who was released from prison decades early because of 2018 legislation was arrested for murdering a 60-year-old man who worked at a Sacramento board and care facility. Michael Xavier Bell, who is now 36 years old, had been out of custody for just 73 days.
We wrote about Bell in 2018. Back then, he was serving a state prison sentence for breaking into a woman’s home and, once inside, raping her at gunpoint in front of her 8-year-old son. Bell and an accomplice took turns committing sexual assaults, at times pointing a gun at the victim’s head and at times pointing the gun at the victim’s 8-year-old son, forcing him to watch.
When the crime occurred in December of 2000, Bell was just nine days shy of his 15th birthday. He was tried and convicted as an adult in 2002, and sentenced to 53 years to life in prison. He was so dangerous and unrepentant that the sentencing judge stated: “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.”
But Bell was allowed back into society thanks to SB 1391, which prohibited prosecutors from charging 14- or 15-year-olds as adults unless they first held a hearing at which a judge concurred that the minor should be treated as an adult.
Governor Brown and the state legislature, including current appointed Attorney General, Rob Bonta, ignored impassioned pleas about how dangerous this legislation was to public safety. In fact, there were no safeguards created within this legislation to protect the public from the most dangerous juvenile offenders such as Bell. Nor was there any mechanism for addressing the retroactive effect on convicted juveniles, like Bell, who had since become adults and who therefore could not be returned to the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system. This is why Bell was released from custody without any form of supervision, or services and apparently without having received any type of sex offender treatment or rehabilitation.
Nor was Bell a model prisoner. According to records filed with the court, he was twice convicted of new felony battery cases while in prison and had numerous disciplinary write-ups wherever he was housed. In his last years of incarceration, he was charged and convicted of felony vandalism of government property for smashing the windows of the visiting area. He was even written up for the rape of another inmate.
Twenty years ago, a Los Angeles County Judge presciently determined that Michael Bell “is not someone who should ever be allowed into society.” Sadly, our state legislature and Governor Brown opened a back door to let him, and others like him, out of custody without services, supervision, or the hint of rehabilitation. The outcome was tragically predictable: another senseless murder of an innocent victim.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing over 800 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.