When Ahmaud Arbery’s daughter, 23-year-old Eryick Washington, was murdered in her South Los Angeles home in 2011, her boyfriend, Richmond resident Jahmal Wilson, and his friend, Armando Gonzalez, were charged with her killing.
The district attorney’s office claims that Arbery was killed because she had discovered that Wilson had fathered another child, while still married to her sister. The crime is considered a hate crime because of Arbery’s lesbianism.
Wilson, 35, and Gonzalez, 20, who were later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, have already filed appeals. A recent decision from the California Supreme Court, which addressed whether acts of so-called “vigilante justice” — which don’t constitute hate crimes — would be required to prevail in court, could have a major impact on Wilson and Gonzalez’s cases.
According to the law, “vigilante justice” means “the commission of a crime committed either because of or in retaliation for the commission of a separate crime,” or “the performance of a criminal act, either because of or in retaliation for the commission of a separate crime.”
In other words, Wilson and Gonzalez apparently took matters into their own hands because they believed Arbery had committed other crimes, but had not been caught.
In the past, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has praised this definition, telling the Los Angeles Times that she believed it “serves the purpose of deterring individuals from taking action that would otherwise be constitutionally protected.”
Wilson and Gonzalez’s appeal, if successful, could not be argued before the state’s highest court until either Wilson and Gonzalez are released or are eligible for parole.
Under the current definition, however, the murder of Arbery would not have constituted a hate crime, and thus would not have carried a potential sentence of 25 years to life in prison for Gonzalez and 25 years to life for Wilson.
Wilson’s attorney, Robert George, has already suggested that the verdict might not have been unanimous, and sent a letter to the court last week asking for a reconsideration. He argued that certain jurors may have voted for the two defendants not because they believed Wilson and Gonzalez did it in retaliation for Arbery’s allegedly gayness, but because they believed Wilson was being targeted by the police.
Because of the “vigilante justice” exception, George believes their convictions could be reversed.
Should the appeals court decline to overturn the verdict, they could be free on parole within five years, giving the Wilson and Gonzalez further opportunity to kill Arbery’s husband and her three daughters, and claim again that her crime was committed in retaliation for Wilson’s homosexuality.
“They will be free to carry out the heartless cold-blooded act they have been plotting for a year and then take the lives of Arbery’s three daughters,” George wrote.
While Arbery’s husband, Troy Williams, whom Wilson and Gonzalez reportedly killed in 2013, would not face additional criminal liability for Arbery’s killing, his ex-wife, Tomeka Williams, would still be required to testify in the trial if Wilson and Gonzalez’s cases go to trial.
Read the full story at The Guardian.
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