Erik’s Law, a bill aimed to repeal certain protections in California that allow juveniles originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole multiple opportunities to get out of prison, died without a formal hearing last week in the state’s Public Safety Committee.
AB 655, authored by Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, was named after Erik Ingebretsen, of Colusa, who was murdered by his childhood best friend, Nathan Ramazzini, in 1997, when both were just 16 years old.
Erik’s Law sought to make changes to SB 394, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, which was part of an overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system. Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, endorsed Gallagher’s bill, and both blamed California Democrats on Friday for their refusal to consider the bill and for prioritizing convicted murders over victims.
Devin Lombardi, Ingebretsen’s sister and victim’s rights advocate, expressed frustration by the unilateral decision by Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr., D-South Los Angeles, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, who denied the bill a hearing.
“I’m learning more and more every day just how corrupt the system is in Sacramento,” said Lombardi. “We knew this was going to be an uphill battle, but they didn’t even give us a chance to make our case. It’s just wrong. The rights afforded to me through the California Victims Bill of Rights Act are being trumped by the rights and concerns for premeditated, first-degree murderers. This is hurtful and beyond devastating for victims.”
Under California’s new juvenile justice laws, Ramazzini, who was convicted 21 years ago of being the driving force behind Ingebretsen’s brutal killing, will be eligible to go before the youthful offender parole board in 2021 and ask to be released from prison after serving just 25 years of a life without parole sentence.
SB 394 was passed in response to a United States Supreme Court ruling (Miller v. Alabama, 2012), which held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, and constituted cruel and inhumane punishment.
At the time of its passage, California progressive lawmakers were seeking to give a opportunity for release to youth who were sentenced to life without parole for participating in crimes in which someone was killed, particularly drive-by shootings, robberies gone bad, and others where murder may not have been the original intent or where coercion from another may have occurred.
Proponents of Erik’s Law believe the SB 394 punishes the family of victims who must endure the pain of their loved one’s murder over and over again.
“Erik’s Law still proposes to give fair opportunity for all juvenile life without parole offenders,” Lombardi said on Friday. “However, instead of the four attempts at resentencing hearings current law allows, Erik’s Law proposes that one hearing is sufficient enough to determine if a life-without-parole offender is remorseful, rehabilitated, or was sincerely coerced by an adult co-offender. After applying the Miller findings, if a judge rules that the offender remains a rare juvenile who is permanently incorrigible and irreparably corrupt, they would not receive further opportunities towards resentencing or juvenile parole board hearings provided by SB 394.”
Lombardi said that proponents of Erik’s Law feel one parole hearing after 25 years is more than fair, and that it would provide all offenders an opportunity to state their case, while maintaining respect for victims, which is something the current laws do not do.
“This was a huge compromise on my part, and I am disappointed that I have been the only one willing to do so,” she said. “Victims should never have to compromise when we’ve already lost so much.”
Gallagher also expressed disappointment in the bill’s failure.
“My colleagues need to listen to voices like Devin’s and take action to reform our laws to ensure that dangerous sociopaths stay behind bars and victims receive justice,” he said, in a statement. “This is a black eye on the Legislature and an insult to every crime victim in California.”
In October, Ramazzini, now 38, took the witness stand in an attempt to have his sentenced reduced under new California resentencing guidelines for youth offenders.
During his testimony, Ramazzini showed virtually no remorse for the killing and said he was “a monster’ and deserved the sentence he got.
Colusa County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Thompson upheld the original sentence that Ramazzini was handed down 21 years ago of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for first degree premeditated murder, lying in wait, plus one year for the use of weapons – in this case the bat he used to bludgeon Ingebretsen to death and the knife he and Leo Contreras, then 19, used to mutilate his dead body.
Contreras, who was determined not to be driving force in the murder, has been released from prison.
“Some crimes are committed in a matter that is too heinous and inhumane for society to excuse,” said Nielsen, in a statement. “In the North State, the cruelty of Erik Ingebretsen’s murderer cannot, and should never, be pardoned. This individual preyed on the trust of a friend and brutally took the life of a promising teenager from his family and loved ones.”
Gallagher and Nielsen are encouraging the public to call the Public Safety Committee chairman and demand a formal hearing on the measure.
Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. can be reached at (916) 319-2059. ■