By Eric Siddall
Voltaire Alphonse Williams will continue to remain in prison for the brutal murder of LAPD Detective Thomas C. Williams.
The Board of Parole Hearings (BPT) listened to reason and decided Williams must remain in prison – for now. We say “for now” because a new state law that took effective January 1, 2016, makes him eligible for an SB 261 Youthful Offender Hearing by the end of 2017. We must remain vigilant and continue to follow this case closely. Williams deserves to remain in prison for the long term for the crime District Attorney Jackie Lacey has cited for its “extreme degree of callousness and dangerousness.”
Williams was one of the conspirators in the plot which lead to the murder the detective on October 31, 1985. He was convicted of conspiracy to murder Det. Williams and was sentenced to 25 years to Life. Daniel Jenkins, the actual killer and instigator of the conspiracy, was sentenced to death and remains on Death Row. Another conspirator was also convicted of murder and was sentenced to Life without Parole.
Williams had been found unsuitable for parole in hearings in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 and February 2014. The 2014 panel denied him parole for three years. In an administrative review under their rules, the BPT granted him an earlier hearing, held in August 2015. He was found suitable for release on parole at that hearing.
Since Williams was not convicted of murder, the governor could not reverse the grant of parole, and could only refer it back to the full twelve-member Board requesting reconsideration. The governor did request such reconsideration in November 2015.
District Attorney Lacey, Chief of Detectives of LAPD, and the Captain of the Robbery-Homicide Division of LAPD all spoke at the en banc BPT meeting on December 22, 2015, requesting the 2015 parole grant be rescinded. The full Board ordered a rescission hearing to determine if the August 2015 grant had been improvidently granted, based on the concerns expressed by the governor.
BPT Commissioners Cynthia Fritz and Arthur Anderson (former Asst. Commissioner of the CHP), and Deputy Commissioner Kathleen Newman held the rescission hearing on Thursday at Solano State Prison in Vacaville. The 2015 decision, which had incorporated all prior hearing transcripts by reference, was reviewed by the panel in detail. In his summation, Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Morrison of the Crimes against Peace Officers Section referenced Williams’ many conflicting statements under oath in all the hearings DDA Morrison attended since 2006, pointing out his consistent lack of credibility and overall lack of insight.
After an hour long deliberation, the panel found the 2015 grant was not supported by the evidence considered by the 2015 panel. They referred to his statements in prior hearings. Specifically, as the governor had noted in his referral, they found the inmate has not accepted full responsibility for his actions or explained the reasons he entered into a plot to assassinate a witness, still minimizes his role in the crime, and still does not fully understand the effect of his crime upon the community. They rescinded the 2015 grant of parole.
Under BPT rules, Williams will have another de novo parole consideration hearing within 120 days. Since he was one month shy of his 23rd birthday at the time of the crime, he now qualifies as a “Youthful Offender” under SB 261 as of January 1, 2016. Therefore, even if the next panel finds him unsuitable for the minimum three year denial period, he must have an SB 261 Youthful Offender Hearing by the end of 2017. Under SB 261, BPT will be required to consider “the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to that of adults” in determining his suitability for parole.
This case will be one of the first tests of SB 261. We shall watch closely to see if it turns out to be a rationale law that makes sense in extraordinary circumstances or another case of a new law with unintended consequences undermining the criminal justice system.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.