By Michele Hanisee & Eric Siddall
Regardless of how you feel about the legislation, we are disturbed, and every legislator should be disturbed, that a witness called to testify in support of Senate Bill 620 told multiple lies to the California Senate. Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition sat next to the bill author, Senator Steven Bradford, as she addressed the Public Safety Committee on April 25, 2017. McGill claimed, “one case in particular, stands out” to exemplify the unfairness of mandatory gun enhancements and then detailed the “facts” of a robbery case involving Travis Manning.
Ms. McGill testified that Manning was a 19-year-old man who had never been arrested. According to McGill, he entered a GameStop, asked for a $100 game while holding a BB gun, and then took the same game back to GameStop a month later, not understanding the consequences of his act. McGill claimed the sentencing judge “stated under California law he could not make any adjustments due to Travis’ cognitive disabilities or his lack of a past criminal record.” PBS NewsHour, relying upon McGill and Senator Bradford’s information, repeated these statements in a story where Manning was made the “poster child” for SB 620.
The actual facts show McGill lied to the Senate Committee. On the day he robbed the GameStop, Manning was a 23-year-old convicted felon. His criminal history included possession of cocaine base for sale. The jury found — and it was affirmed on appeal — that Manning pulled out and cocked a real gun while committing the robbery. Manning did not request a “$100 game” as McGill testified but demanded and received a Wii console, games, accessories, as well as the $600-700 in the cash register.
Ms. McGill also did not tell the truth about Manning’s actions after the robbery. He did not take the “same game” back to GameStop. Instead, on two separate occasions Manning sold portions of the stolen loot to another GameStop store. This was not a misunderstood youth. Mr. Manning was a felon who after committing robbery then committed a burglary by entering a business to sell property he had stolen at gunpoint. The connection was finally made when the store clerks from two different locations independently identify Manning.
Finally, Ms. McGill was dishonest in her description of the judge’s remarks which she embellished to support her key point–that inflexible sentencing laws led to Manning’s sentence. Clearly the judge never claimed he could not adjust the sentence despite Manning’s “lack of a past criminal record,” since Manning did have a prior record at the time he committed the robbery. Mr. Manning was on active probation with a prior felony conviction (Case number MA029937) when he committed the robbery and that led to his being charged and convicted of being a felon with a firearm. (Case number TA095435)
Equally importantly, the sentence length proved McGill was dishonest when she purported to quote the judge. This is the point that first caused us to take notice of her claims. As Ms. McGill was weaving her tale about the judge’s statement, anybody who understands sentencing laws (be they prosecutor, defense attorney, or legislator sitting on the Public Safety Committee) should have instantly recognized without even knowing the facts of the case that McGill’s tale did not ring true.
The sentence length for the crimes charged reflected that the judge had selected the longer of possible terms for Manning’s sentence. California law allowed the sentencing judge to run Manning’s convictions for two robberies and a burglary concurrently, resulting in a shorter prison sentence than the 18 years imposed. Instead, the sentence length reflected consecutive sentences, emphatically disproving McGill’s recitation that the sentencing judge stated California law precluded a reduced sentence length.
We believe that McGill’s misstatements were deliberate and calculated. According to her own words when she testified, she was involved in the Manning case before his trial and sentencing. Ms. McGill stated to the committee that she helped Manning get a new lawyer pending trial, “packed the court,” and coordinated the presentation of “several powerful testimonies” at sentencing.
It is shocking that Ms. McGill felt comfortable sitting next to Senator Bradford while calmly uttering false statements during public testimony to a Senate Committee. Also alarming is that when the ADDA contacted PBS reporter Kamala Kelkar to request a correction of her inaccurate story, we were informed that Senator Bradford’s office repeated McGill’s false statements about Manning, including the absurd claim that he had no prior record. Didn’t the Senator or anybody on his staff wonder how Manning was convicted of being a felon in possession of a gun if he had never been convicted of a prior felony? Why didn’t the Senator or his staff verify any of the facts of the case they chose to use as the “poster child” for the need to overturn mandatory gun enhancements? The information is, after all, public record.
Criminal justice reform advocates who wish to take the system to task should remember that in criminal trials, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, and that everything is documented in the public record. If you misrepresent the facts that are in the public record, we will know. This sordid episode points out the need for legislators and the media to carefully vet the stories and ideas being peddled in furtherance of “criminal justice reform.”
Michele Hanisee is President and Eric Siddall is Vice 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. To contact a Board member, click here.
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