LAW & ORDER - In the previous article, I brought to the public’s attention a covert plan orchestrated by Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón aimed at securing the release of a convicted cop killer and prominent figure within the Mexican Mafia from state prison.
Earlier this week, in response to tenacious reporting that exposed the activities of Gascón and his inner circle, the District Attorney belatedly said he wanted to keep that murderer locked up. However, it is noteworthy that Gascón’s sudden public stance comes on the heels of years of discreet efforts aimed at overturning the killer’s conviction and facilitating the release of this perilous criminal from state prison.
Over four decades ago, a jury convicted Jesse Gonzales of the intentional murder of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Jack Williams. Gonzales, a drug-dealing Puente gang member, executed Williams as law enforcement served a search warrant on Gonzales’ house. Gonzales had been outside watering his lawn when he saw police coming. He ran inside his house and closed the door. Deputies knocked and yelled “Police!” at the door. Deputies kicked in the front door when they heard movements inside the house. Gonzales shot Deputy Williams in the chest with a shotgun, mortally wounding him. At the scene, Gonzales showed no remorse. Instead, he defiantly raised his left fist and yelled, “Viva Puente!”
Gonzales’ conviction and sentence have been affirmed – multiple times by multiple courts. For the last 40 years, the District Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office successfully defended Gonzales’ conviction and sentence as being legally valid.
Gonzales has continually sought to attack his conviction, most recently in a 2012 Habeas Corpus petition. Penal Code 1473. He alleged that the prosecution didn’t turn over exculpatory evidence to his defense counsel (Brady error). During the trial, a jailhouse informant testified that the defendant admitted that he knew the people at his house were law enforcement officers. This was an important fact because at trial Gonzales claimed that he thought the police were rival gang members.
But trial transcripts make it clear that the jury knew that the informant was a convicted murderer, an admitted liar and that he expected to receive some favorable treatment from testifying. After the trial, additional evidence was discovered that confirmed what the jury had been told – that the informant had major credibility problems.
This brings us to Gonzales’ habeas petition to overturn his conviction. If the judge agreed with the defendant’s claim, the only legal remedy was a reversal of the conviction. Legally, the court could not just change Gonzales’ sentence. Why not? Because the defendant’s Brady claim, if true, would undermine the conviction’s legality and require reversal. For nine years, the DA’s and AG’s offices both believed (and argued) the Brady claim lacked merit.
Once Gascón was elected, however, this changed… when Gascón brought in a cadre of former public defenders to specifically handle cases like this, including Gonzales.
Prosecutors have an ethical obligation to seek justice, tell the truth, and always do the right thing. While Gascón makes public statements claiming to have integrity, he and those he has put in charge of these cases do not. In this case, those people included Diana Teran, Joseph Iniguez and Shelan Joseph. This group attempted to use the Gonzales case to show that Gascón is correcting mistakes made by other prosecutors that they claim were “unethical.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
- In December 2021, Diana Teran sent an email stating, “We are ethically obligated to concede the Brady violation” on Gonzales’ conviction and sentence, meaning the conviction should be overturned.
- On December 7, 2021, Teran, Iniguez and Joseph had a Zoom call with Deputy William’s daughters, during which they tried to talk them into agreeing to “resentence” Gonzalez to a term of 15 years to life, which would have made him immediately eligible for a parole hearing. The family did not agree. Gascón did not attempt to lower Gonzales’ sentence, fearing a public backlash.
- In September 2022, Shelan Joseph filed a document conceding the Brady claim. The office, including prosecutors under Joseph’s supervision, never filed any document with the court that defended the conviction.
- On June 2, 2023, the handling court, seeking clarification of the issue(s) in dispute, asked Gascón’s prosecutors if Gonzales ever admitted that he saw the police while watering outside his home before the search warrant was served.
There was an easy answer: at trial, the lead detective testified that Gonzales “stated that he had been inside the house taking a shower. After taking a shower, he got dressed, went to the front yard and began to water the front yard. At one point, he went in to check on the welfare of a child, returned to the front yard, and continued watering the front lawn until, suddenly, he saw the cops coming. He threw the hose down and ran back inside the house.”
Did Joseph or any other Gascón prosecutor refer the judge to the detective’s clear-cut testimony? No. Instead, in her continued attempt to undermine the defendant’s conviction, on July 14, 2023, Shelan Joseph told the court that “[t]he evidence is unclear on this issue.”
Wait - WHAT?
The evidence was, in fact, incredibly clear – the defendant admitted that he saw police coming, went inside his house, got his shotgun, waited until police forced entry, and then murdered Deputy Williams.
This week, in response to substantial public outcry and political pressure, Gascón went on TV and told ABC News that he wanted Gonzales to stay in prison and that — finally — his office would stand by its pre-Gascón decision to defend the conviction.
And then, Gascón’s hand-picked prosecutor made a last-ditch effort to double back. At the hearing on December 5, Shelan Joseph told the court, for the first time, that the DA’s office thought the Brady claim should be granted for the sentence only, not the conviction.
The law doesn’t work that way. A concession on the Brady claim undermines the entire conviction. You can’t separate it and ask that it only affect the sentence, not the conviction. A career prosecutor would know that. But a political ally with limited prosecutorial experience, like Joseph, either did not know it, didn’t want to admit it, or didn’t care.
In the end, Judge George Lomeli denied Gonzales’ petition, effectively ending the Gascón administration’s secret scheme to let this cop-killing shotcaller out of prison.
In his ruling, Judge Lomeli stated that despite the prosecution’s concession, he found NO Brady violation and denied the defendant’s Habeas claim. The prosecution’s concession was not justified.
After the court’s ruling, Joseph Iniguez could be seen glad-handing with law enforcement, who was there in support of the victim’s family. Iniguez continued Gascón’s attempt to say “nothing to see here” by telling ABC that the DA’s office had never discussed Gonzales getting a sentence that would make him eligible for a parole hearing.
The reduced sentence that Gascón pressured the family to accept would have made the defendant immediately eligible for a parole hearing based on California’s elder parole law (Penal Code 3055). In a further gut punch, Gascón’s policies do not allow prosecutors from Los Angeles to attend parole hearings, so Jack Williams’ family would have had to navigate the parole hearings on their own.
Gascón brazenly sought to upend the conviction of a cop killer and unleash a current member of the Mexican Mafia into our neighborhoods. His attempts to cloak these actions under the guise of an “ethical obligation to play by the rules” are nothing short of a deceptive cover-up. His approach’s glaring lack of integrity demands an immediate and sincere commitment to ethical conduct moving forward.
(Kathy Cady, a Victims’ Rights Attorney at Dordulian Law Group, brings over three decades of legal expertise, including 31 years as a prosecutor with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. With a specialization in family violence, child abuse, and sexual assault cases, Ms. Cady conducted over 90 felony jury trials. In her current capacity at Dordulian Law Group, Ms. Cady provides pro bono representation to crime victims, lending her wealth of experience to help them assert their rights in criminal and juvenile justice cases.
(The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent representing over 800 Deputy District Attorneys working for the County of Los Angeles)