A San Jose family is reliving the horrors of a 15-year-old boy's murder as one of the convicted killers tries to have his sentence reheard in court this week.
Michael Russell was stabbed to death by two of his friends, who called the slaying a "thrill kill."
The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office decided to try the teenagers as adults, and Proposition 57 says a judge must make that determination, not prosecutors.
The killers, Randy Thompson and Jae Williams, were convicted and are serving 26 years to life. But because of Prop. 57, Thompson was back in court Thursday, hoping to be freed.
Russell's family is horrified.
"This has been the worst thing that any family could ever go through," said Cathy Russell, Michael's aunt. "It's taken years off our life."
The proposition, which passed overwhelmingly in 2016, says only a judge can decide if a juvenile is tried as an adult. Thursday's hearing was the first step to see if the DA erred in Thompson’s case.
"I don’t care if he was 16 when he did it. He killed somebody," Cathy Russell said. "I don’t think he has to get another shot at something."
Under Prop. 57, if a judge rules Thompson should not have been tried as an adult, he will be a free man. Otherwise, Thompson will continue serving his sentence in prison.
Criminal defense lawyers say the pre-Prop. 57 rules gave the DA too much authority.
"That could be an abuse of power," defense attorney Jaime Leanos said. "I don’t believe the district attorneys should have more power than the judges, who are supposed to be the fair and objective tryers of fact."
It's assumed that the second killer, Williams, will have a similar hearing. It also means many more juvenile suspects in Santa Clara County might get another shot at freedom.