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We looked at what was the level of participation in the assault, how criminal was he, how culpable was he. And in Jose's case . . . we saw that his involvement wasn't that high.
Fifteen year-old José's childhood was difficult: his father, a heroin addict, disappeared shortly after José was born, and his mother had problems of her own and eventually disappeared as well. And eventually, Jose became involved with a local gang. He also became a serious addict, hooked on both drugs and alcohol.

In the fall of 1998 José participated in a deadly brawl. He and four other teenagers -- two of them recent immigrants from Mexico - had been hanging out in an alley, drinking. The teenagers started roughhousing and this escalated into serious fight, with the two immigrants becoming targets of the others. The skull of one of them was crushed, after being beaten repeatedly. The other escaped by scaling a fence, breaking his ankle in the process. José and his friends fled the scene as the neighbors awoke to the commotion.

José was arrested and charged with murder. Prosecutors asked for a fitness hearing to determine if he could be tried in adult court, because of the seriousness of the crime. As prosecutor Kurt Kumli explained, "He had been in the system since he was twelve years old, and he committed a crime of such violence, of such callousness, that it really begged under the statutory scheme set out for fitness to be certified up . . . ."

Upon investigation, however, more facts began to emerge about José's case. After fleeing the scene of the assault, José and his friend had found the second victim struggling to walk with a broken ankle, and they helped the victim to get home and clean up. It was also discovered that while José had participated in the beating, he appeared to have played a lesser role in the attack. These factors, combined with his youth and severe intoxication on the night of the incident, led prosecutors to offer José a deal. Prosecutor David Soares said, "We looked at what was the level of participation in the assault, how criminal was he, how culpable was he. And in José's case . . . we saw that his involvement wasn't that high." So José was offered a deal: he was to move to adult court and plead guilty, but to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. After his plea, José was sent for a psychological evaluation at the California Youth Authority. He received a favorable evaluation in which the psychologist found that he was not likely to be a threat to public safety as long as he was sober.

photo of jose leaving juvenile hall The judge gave José a very big break -- sentencing him to only 208 days in Juvenile Hall. While he was there, José worked hard at school, graduating shortly before his release. He became a favorite of the staff; as teacher Joe Mangelli explained, "He did a lot of it on his own. The raw material was there. He didn't have to start from ground zero. He had a great personality and intelligence and openness, and I think the staff around here filled in the gaps for him and helped him to succeed, hopefully forever."

Released from juvenile hall at 17, José now carries an adult record. As conditions of his probation, he had to cut all ties with his gang life, submit to drug tests and either find a job or go to school full time. After five months of rejections, and with the assistance of a nurse from the juvenile hall, José obtained a job with a local parks department. He enrolled in community college after the staff from juvenile hall helped him get books and a bicycle to get to class.

Update: In late January 2001, Jose was arrested for a probation violation. He is currently in county jail and will appear in court sometime in February.

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