By Kathleen Cady
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s blanket Youth Justice policy mandated that several “former minors” who were convicted by a jury of gang murder and sentenced in criminal court be released. In less than one and a half years, two thirds of these convicted murderers have been charged with new felonies.
These convicted murderers, who were 16 or 17 at the time they committed their crimes, were released after serving only a fraction of the time of their original sentence. Because of the passage of Proposition 57 in 2016, some former minors were sent back to juvenile court by the Court of Appeal, with directions to hold a retroactive “transfer” hearing to determine whether their conviction should have been in juvenile court or criminal court. Gascón did not conduct any of these transfer hearings. The result is that these defendants who were convicted of gang murders, sometimes of multiple murders, were released back into our communities having served only a few years in custody. In all these cases, the former minors were released without any assurances that they received rehabilitative services, nor any evaluation as to their current dangerousness. Some of these former minors had subsequent convictions for crimes of violence they committed while in custody.
It is unknown exactly how many of these cases there were because the District Attorney’s Office has not provided that information, but a declaration under penalty of perjury filed by someone in the DA’s administration stated “there were approximately eight to ten former minors who had already been sentenced in adult court, but were conditionally remanded to juvenile court” for a transfer hearing.
The law recognizes that the juvenile justice system is not the appropriate place for some 16- and 17-year-olds who commit exceptionally heinous and brutal crimes. This legal procedure for a minor to be prosecuted in criminal court is triggered by the prosecution filing a transfer motion. (Welfare and Institutions Code 707). This procedure provides a judicial safeguard to ensure that only those minors who can’t be rehabilitated in the juvenile system are transferred to criminal jurisdiction.
At least six of these former minors were released in the summer or fall of 2021. All were in their 20’s and now have the street cred gangs give to people who’ve served time in prison. Two were not released: one convicted murderer was not released because he was serving an 8-year sentence for assault on a prisoner in a different county; and one was not released because he was pending new charges of attempted murder committed while in custody.
Of the six convicted murderers who were released, four have been rearrested. One is now charged with a new murder; one is now charged with felon in possession of a gun, evading police and drug charges, and two convicted gang murderers are now charged with felon in possession of a gun. Gascón claims to rely on “data and science.” What the data reveals from this group of convicted murderers is that 66% have been re-arrested and are now charged with murder or having guns . . . again. Only two have not been re-arrested. Below is a summary of the defendants who were released and have been rearrested:
Victor Bibiano and another gang member were convicted by a jury of the 2009 murders of Justin Curiel and Javier Zamora. An additional victim was shot but survived. The jury found that the defendants committed the murders for the benefit of the gang and Bibiano used a gun. The Court of Appeal sent the case back for a retroactive transfer hearing, which the District Attorney’s Office did not conduct. Because of that, Bibiano was released after only 12 years in custody after murdering two people for the benefit of his gang.
Within a few months of being released, Bibiano was arrested and convicted of spousal abuse and then released. A few months after being released on spousal abuse, Bibiano was arrested and charged with a different codefendant of murdering Mario Rodriguez on April 16, 2022. Because Gascón’s policies do not allow gang allegations, it is unknown whether this new crime was committed for the benefit of the gang. Bibiano remains in custody on murder charges. Although the law allows for Special Circumstance of multiple murders to be charged, Gascón’s policies do not, so if Bibiano is convicted, his sentence will effectively be the same as a person who has not previously murdered two people.
Jairo Bustamante aka “Hunter” and Juan Solano Sanchez were codefendants in the 2011 murders of Franklin Munoz and Israel Salinas. Bustamante was convicted by jury of murder of Salinas and voluntary manslaughter of Munoz three days earlier. A jury convicted Juan Solano Sanchez of the murder of Munoz. The jury found the gang allegation true and that they both committed the killings for the benefit of their gang. Bustamante had a prior robbery juvenile conviction. While in prison, Bustamante was convicted of arson. While in prison Solano was convicted of felony battery. The Court of Appeal sent the case back for a retroactive transfer hearing, which Gascón’s office did not conduct. Because of that, Bustamante and Solano were released after spending only 10 years in custody.
On 2/14/2022, Solano Sanchez was arrested and charged for felon in possession of a gun. On 10/20/2022, Bustamante was arrested and charged with felony in possession of a gun. Despite the fact that both are convicted gang murderers who used a gun and are now pending charges of felon in possession of a gun, they both remain out of custody. Gascón’s Pretrial Release policy and his belief in the unfairness of cash bail is responsible for Bustamante and Solano Sanchez still being out of custody.
Andrew Cachu was convicted of the 2015 murder and robbery of Louis Amela. The jury also found the crimes were committed for the benefit of Cachu’s gang. The Court of Appeal sent the case back for the District Attorney’s Office to conduct a retroactive transfer hearing, which the District Attorney’s Office again did not conduct, resulting in Cachu being released after only 6 years in custody. Within a few months, Cachu was arrested and is charged with evading police, being a felon with a gun, possessing cocaine and methamphetamine for sale and driving under the influence. Cachu remains in custody.
More than a year after issuing his blanket policies, and after several public fiascos, Gascón modified his Youth Justice policy stating, “in exceptional circumstances, criminal jurisdiction may be appropriate for youth offenders.” His change in policy is little solace to Bibiano’s newest murder victim.
Gascón’s policies threaten public safety and are directly responsible for dangerous defendants being out of custody who have hurt fathers, mothers, daughters and sons. A lawsuit has been filed against Gascón claiming that he is responsible for the deaths of El Monte police officers. But for Gascón’s policies, our communities would be safer. Convicted gang murderer Bibiano would not have been released from custody and Mario Rodriguez would still be alive. Convicted gang murderers Cachu, Bustamante and Solano Sanchez would not have illegally obtained more guns and committed new crimes.
Gascón’s policies help criminal defendants and disregard victims and public safety. Unfortunately for the residents of Los Angeles County, as long as Gascón’s policies remain in place, gang members are empowered, and our communities continue to suffer.
Kathleen Cady is one of several former prosecutors who are providing pro bono assistance to crime victims in response to Gascón’s policies.