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San Diego County District Attorney may challenge state's new murder law

SB 1437 allows some to apply for resentencing
Posted at 9:00 AM, Jan 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-08 12:13:16-05

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - A new California law could let convicted killers out of prison, and San Diego County's district attorney said her office will fight it on a case-by-case basis.

Senate Bill 1437 passed the state Legislature last year and went into effect on January 1. It narrows the definition of murder so that only people who are involved in a killing can be charged with that crime.

Before the law, accomplices in a killing could also have been charged with murder.

"It may let murderers go free, because of how far it goes," said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Stephan said her office will challenge some re-sentencing hearings based on the new law, although she said they don't know how many there will be.

One possible case involves Kurese Bell, who He as convicted of murder in 2016 for his role in the robbery of a North Park marijuana dispensary.

During the robbery, Bell and another man, Marlon Thomas, got into a shootout with a security guard at the dispensary. The guard shot and killed Thomas.

The DA's office argued that Bell should face murder charges because his actions in the robbery led to the shootout and, ultimately, Thomas' death.

Bell is currently serving a 65-year-to-life sentence.

Stephan said criminals need to be held accountable for the crimes they commit and cause.

"It's really important that each offender is held culpable at the right level," she said. "That's what justice is about."

Supporters of the new law say it is a vital part of California's efforts at criminal justice reform. They say the old law unfairly targeted young minorities.

On its website, the group Restore California says the new law makes sentencing in California more "equitable." They also say it gives accomplices an incentive to cooperate with investigators.

"In a co-defendant felony murder case, co-defendants who were not the actual killers, who did not aid and abet the killing, or who did not act with reckless indifference to human life will now have an incentive to talk and tell the truth about what happened," the website reads.