LOS ANGELES — Gov. Gray Davis does not have blanket powers to deny parole to murderers, a judge ruled Thursday in ordering the release of convicted killer Robert Rosenkrantz.
Rosenkrantz, who killed a boyhood friend in Calabasas 16 years ago for revealing Rosenkrantz’s homosexuality, has become the rallying point against Davis’ reluctance to grant parole to murderers.
“There is a total absence of any evidence in the record supporting the governor’s opinion that (Rosenkrantz) represents a ‘continued threat to the public,’ ” Superior Court Judge Paul Gutman wrote.
“While the governor is entitled to express his opinion, the opinion itself must be factually supported and it is not.”
The decision “reverses a policy that says even people who have a chance to be redeemed are having that chance taken away,” said Alan Schlosser, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Northern California chapter.
“This is a strong testament showing that no one, even the governor, is above the law ... he can’t act cavalierly and capriciously,” Schlosser said.
The state will file an appeal to keep Rosenkrantz in prison “as soon as possible,” said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
Davis’s decision was unconstitutional, Gutman wrote, because he failed to apply the standards used by the Parole Board for inmate release.
The governor says he does not employ a no-parole policy, but Gutman found that his actions and public statements show he denies parole to murderers “regardless of any extenuating circumstances.”
Of the 48 convicted murderers granted parole by the Board of Prison Terms since Davis took office in 1999, the governor has rejected all but one of them. Rose Ann Parker, who shot her abusive boyfriend in 1986 after he threatened to kill her and her son, was released in December.
Barry Goode, Davis’ legal affairs secretary, reiterated the governor’s contention that he does not arbitrarily rule against granting murderers parole.
“Gov. Davis studied Mr. Rosenkrantz’s case carefully before deciding that he is not suitable for parole at this time,” Goode said in a statement Thursday.
“Gov. Davis gives each case careful scrutiny. He determines each on its own merits and will continue to do so.”
Rosenkrantz, 33, was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison, where he became a model prisoner and a computer expert. But the Board of Prison Terms’ decision to release him sparked immediate controversy — as did Davis’ decision to overturn it.
Davis said in his October decision to block the release that Rosenkrantz was fortunate not to have been convicted of first-degree murder, a verdict he said would have been supported by the facts.
During court hearings before Gutman, Deputy Attorney General Robert Wilson argued that Davis does not arbitrarily deny parole to all murderers. His denial in Rosenkrantz’s case was made because of the vicious nature of the killing, Wilson said.
Rosenkrantz had just graduated from high school when he shot and killed 17-year-old Steven Redman with an Uzi semiautomatic weapon on June 28, 1985. Days earlier, Redman had told Rosenkrantz’s father that Rosenkrantz was gay.
A jury convicted Rosenkrantz of second-degree murder; he was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.
Rosenkrantz’s attorney Donald Specter said Rosenkrantz and his family were thrilled.
“They’re all extremely happy and relieved and thankful for the courage that the judge showed to make a ruling such as the one he did,” Specter said. “They’re looking forward very much to having Robert Rosenkrantz released.”