Should a cop killer be paroled?

2014-03-22T21:21:00Z Should a cop killer be paroled?Michael D. O’Reilley Napa Valley Register
March 22, 2014 9:21 pm  • 

The California Supreme Court soon will decide whether a defendant, under age 18, who was involved in an armed robbery and the murder of a police officer, should be eligible for parole. The issue in People v. Moffett is whether Moffett’s sentence of life without parole  constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

In 2005, Andrew Moffett, four days away from his 18th birthday, and an accomplice named Alexander Hamilton committed an armed robbery of Raley’s supermarket in Pittsburg.

They arrived in a stolen car. Moffett approached a cash register, placed his gun against the clerk’s head and ordered her to give him the money. When she hesitated, he said, “Come on (expletive), you’re taking too (expletive) long.” She gave him $800.

While Moffett was robbing the clerk, Hamilton robbed the employees at the Wells Fargo service counter. Moffett and Hamilton ran to their car and sped from the store, but crashed into a truck. They then fled on foot.

Pittsburg Police Officer Larry Lasater gave chase and called out. Hamilton fired numerous shots at Lasater, mortally wounding him. Hamilton was arrested only after he ran out of ammunition.

Moffett was located, shirtless, in a backyard. His gun, shirt and the Raley’s money were found nearby.

Upon his conviction in Contra Costa County Superior Court, Hamilton was sentenced to death. Following Moffett’s conviction, the judge announced she could sentence Moffett to either life without parole  or life with possibility of parole, but decided life without parole was appropriate, given his actions on the day of the murder and his criminal history.

The judge said, “The actions taken by Mr. Moffett were not those of an irresponsible child.

“They were the very adult, violent acts of a young man who showed no regard for the impact of his actions on the victims in this case.”

In 2011, the Court of Appeal voided Moffett’s LWOP sentence on the grounds that the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that state laws making life-without-parole  sentences mandatory for murderers under age 18 were unconstitutional. It ordered the sentence changed to permit the possibility of parole.

California law does not require life-without-parole  sentences for all juvenile murderers.

The law gives trial courts discretion to impose life without parole  or life with possibility of parole, but it does contain a preference for a sentence of life without parole.

The California Supreme Court will soon decide whether the appellate court’s decision or the original trial court’s sentence is correct.

The defense argues that a presumptive life-without-parole  sentence is as unconstitutionally cruel as a mandatory one, because it does not consider fundamental differences between adults and juveniles.

It contends a juvenile necessarily is less culpable and has a greater capacity for change.

The defense maintains that physical and social sciences have shown that juveniles far more than adults are prone to transient rashness, proclivity for risk and an inability to assess consequences.

Accordingly, it claims that a juvenile’s moral transgressions are not as reprehensible as those of an adult and that life without parole  sentences do not allow for neurological growth and the reform of deficiencies such as immaturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility.

The prosecution makes four arguments. The first is the obvious one. The U.S. Supreme Court prohibits mandatory life without parole  for juvenile murderers, but California law is by definition discretionary — not mandatory.

The prosecution also cites the pain and heartache inflicted on the family of murder victims by a killer’s possibility of parole. Each year, hundreds of convicted murderers sentenced to life imprisonment are considered for parole.

The process tortures surviving family members as inmates use attorneys paid with tax dollars to argue for release.

Families cannot escape the inevitable stress, depression and exhaustion the continuous cycle of this hearing process creates. It is as if the parole process was designed to wear down and defeat the survivors of murder victims.

The prosecution also justifies the sentence of life without parole  on other grounds.

While Moffett was not the triggerman in Lasater’s murder, his degree of participation in the crime spree leading up to the murder was substantial.

He personally robbed an employee, threatened her at gunpoint with immediate death and drove with Hamilton in a stolen car. While Moffett may not have planned Lasater’s murder, Moffett clearly demonstrated a willingness to kill.

Finally, the prosecution concludes that the trial court properly relied upon evidence of the impact that Lasater’s murder had, not just upon his family, but upon the community as a whole.

Convicted defendants have a right at sentencing to present an argument and mitigating evidence. Victims should have equal rights, and those rights are meaningless if the court ignores what is presented.

The issues here are complex and involve the very foundation of Western civilization — the family unit.

Whatever our Supreme Court’s decision may be, it will have profound and far-reaching legal and social implications.

O’Reilley is an adjunct professor at California State University East Bay and a former Napa deputy district attorney.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(25) Comments

  1. glenroy
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    glenroy - March 23, 2014 5:54 am
    His behavior was not that of a child…let him rot in his cell.
  2. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - March 23, 2014 8:33 am
    No murders should ever be allowed to go free, no matter how old they were.
  3. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - March 23, 2014 9:17 am
    Murderers, especially cop killers should never be set free. Take a life during the commission of a crime and you should surrender your freedom forever. I support the death penalty and it should be enforced since the voters have said on more than one occasion that they want the death penalty. Just because this person was 4 days from being 18 years old does not mean he didn't know what he was doing. I would like to know what crimes this man previously committed. I'll bet he as a long criminal history as a juvenile.
  4. chunk215
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    chunk215 - March 23, 2014 10:48 am
  5. Sickothis
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    Sickothis - March 23, 2014 7:20 pm
    How about cops that murder unarmed citizens Old Time Napkin?
  6. rocketman
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    rocketman - March 24, 2014 7:19 am
    Sickofthis not only is missing the point OTN, he watches too much MSNBC.......
  7. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - March 24, 2014 7:31 am
    If they are convicted of the crime then no.
  8. butch
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    butch - March 24, 2014 7:53 am
    Let him dot in prison if he gets ouf he will probable do it again
  9. Sickothis
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    Sickothis - March 24, 2014 10:24 am
    Really rocketman? What facts am I missing in the question?

    But since you mention facts, here are a few (with citations, which themselves have citations):

    98% of death penalty DA's are white, 1% are black, 1% are hispanic (fig 8.)

    "In non-Stand Your Ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent."

    "Approximately 12%-13% of the American population is African-American, but they make up 40% of the almost 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison"

    Now - I have no opinion about the author's question because I don't know the case, but facts are facts.
  10. leolake
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    leolake - March 24, 2014 12:58 pm
    Are you nuts ? No, this punk should never get out of prison. Maybe when he is 90 years old and truly no longer a threat to society. If you let this guy out, then who's next ? Charles Manson, Scott Peterson, etc, etc. Let the older cons take care of this guy behnd bars.
  11. anothervoice
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    anothervoice - March 24, 2014 1:39 pm
    The man should remain in jail. The police officer who was killed still lies in his grave, and will forevermore. He probably left loved ones behind who are forever changed by their loss and the manner in which he died. I have read histories on criminals like this one, and they seem to lack a conscience and also have crimes in their past, and they just go on and on and on to lives of crimes. A person can change of course, for the better, but the consequences of this crime is in the grave of the police officer.
  12. rocketman
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    rocketman - March 24, 2014 2:05 pm
    You must live in a world of your own asked OTN the following question:
    "How about cops that murder unarmed citizens Old Time Napkin?"

    What does THAT question have to do with the article written?? The discussion is about cop killers being paroled. You changed the subject. Then you go on to site articles that have nothing to do with cop killers being paroled or cops killing unarmed citizens.

    The facts YOU are missing is that you are totally off topic. You might as well have asked OTN the question of "What about cops who kill unarmed nuns..........
  13. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - March 24, 2014 5:40 pm
    sickothis, your question does not merit a response as it has nothing to do with Mr. Oreilley's article. You might want to re read the article and make appropriate, on topic, comments. I'm surprised that NVR allowed your comment since it was off topic..
  14. Bystander 1
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    Bystander 1 - March 25, 2014 7:28 am
    I think sickofthis comments are entirely appropriate. The question at hand is whether a cop killer under the age of 18 should ever be allowed to be paroled. Seemingly it is obvious that the special circumstance of killing a cop is part of the question at hand SOT's questioning of this special context is perfectly appropriate. If we are to attach special significance to certain contexts, such as a police killing, then comparisons, or questioning of the validity, or uniform applicability, of such events is in order. Do you just think we should accept this special context of the cop killer without question?
  15. Sickothis
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    Sickothis - March 25, 2014 2:17 pm
    What about white cops that shoot an unarmed black man in the back in a BART station?

    And, according the letter, "Moffett was located, shirtless, in a backyard. His gun, shirt and the Raley’s money were found nearby."

    I understand the law in that since he was involved in the commitment of a felony he's guilty of homicide, too (obviously paraphrasing the technical legal language). But HE didn't kill a cop.
  16. rocketman
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    rocketman - March 25, 2014 3:06 pm
    He was an accomplice and he is as guilty as the shooter, according to the jury verdict. That's the law. If you don't like it then petition to change it.......and good luck with that...
  17. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - March 25, 2014 3:49 pm
    Who cares where they found him or whether the gun was found on him or nearby.. He used a gun and threatened to kill a lady with that gun during the robbery. Who knows what he would have done if the lady made the wrong move. He was tried and convicted and given life instead of the death sentence. He was lucky that he didn't get the death sentence. People commit crimes and then "whine' about the punishment. If you can't do the time then don't do the crime. It's as simple as that.
  18. 257mombb
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    257mombb - March 25, 2014 4:04 pm
    Thank to the author for acknowledging the devastating loss that surviving family members suffer when their loved ones are murdered. Too often articles about teen killers focus exclusively on the offender, and ignore the victim. My interest is personal as Officer Larry Lasater is my beloved son. The bullets that killed Larry didn't just kill him, but killed a part of everyone that cared about him. We have faced this remorseless killer several times in a courtroom, and if we are required to attend another sentencing hearing, we will be there to ask for the maximum sentence. We will always fight for justice for him. Larry would be alive if it were not for the actions of Andrew Moffett as outlined in this article as well as the fact he provided the gun and hollow point bullets to the shooter. Thanks to all who wrote supportive comments for caring. God bless you.
  19. 257mombb
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    257mombb - March 25, 2014 4:14 pm
    Thank you for understanding that Larry's loss is felt every day by those who love him. He was survived by his wife and a son, born 2 months after his murder. I am his mom; his older brother James and I miss him every minute of every day. Larry was a loyal friend to many whose lives were also impacted by the murder. He served his country as a Marine Captain before going into law enforcement and was a reservist at the time of his death, and he saved five lies as an organ donor when he was killed in the line of duty. He was an awesome guy you would have been proud to call him your friend.. Your support is very appreciated.
  20. Bystander 1
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    Bystander 1 - March 26, 2014 5:45 am
    And so if the law allows him to be paroled you need to do something to change that. Not much of an argument about right and wrong
  21. Bystander 1
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    Bystander 1 - March 26, 2014 6:06 am
    You say don't do the crime if you cannot do the time. Well yes that presupposes that kids are the same as adults in terms of development. Claiming that the degree of severity of a crime is somehow a testament to the development of an adolescent equates maturity with cruelty. But lets go back to your Robert Blake inspired quote about the crime and the time. You clearly say that you do not care about the evidence involved in one of the crimes this person is convicted of. Instead you simply claim that because he is guilty of a separate crime, threatening the woman with a gun, he might as well be guilty of the other. So it should be more like if you don't do the crime you can still so the time,
  22. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - March 26, 2014 7:58 am
    Bystander, check around and look up the "Felony Murder Rule". It will explain why those involved in a capital crime, even though they didn't actually pull the trigger, can be sentenced the same as the one who did pull the trigger. There was a conspiracy to commit the robbery (a felony) and as a result of that conspiracy a man (police officer) was murdered( a second felony). I stand by my original statement.
  23. Bystander 1
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    Bystander 1 - March 26, 2014 1:28 pm
    You stated you did not care whether the gun was found elsewhere or not. This seemed to imply a disregard for the facts of the case. I don't know the specifics, but to say they do not matter calls your objectivity into question. It is however a stupid law. But rather than debating its validity you may choose to join rocketman in his silent acclamation of it
  24. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - March 26, 2014 1:32 pm
    257mombb, this has to be so painful for you and your family to continually have to monitor the justice system to make sure this criminal does not get back out into society. Losing a child is the most painful event that a parent has to endure. It is a life changing event. Your son is gone , but this criminal continues to live even though in prison.
  25. Bystander 1
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    Bystander 1 - March 26, 2014 3:10 pm
    I am just wondering if the pain in the perpetrator's family matters. Are their feelings not of the same nature of those of the victim? Is it on a case by case basis that we decide? If the family treated their future perpetrator well are they victims as well?

    Indigenous cultures used to try to work out disputes and crime amongst the families or tribes Perhaps those days, or anything approximating them, are gone forever
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