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Prellwitz v. Sisto

March 3, 2009




Petitioner Steven Prellwitz is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Mr. Prellwitz challenges a December 13, 2005 decision by the Board of Parole Hearings (hereinafter Board) finding him unsuitable for parole. Mr. Prellwitz claims that the Board's decision violated his right to due process. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend that Mr. Prellwitz's petition for habeas corpus relief be granted.


A. Commitment Offense

The circumstances of Mr. Prellwitz's commitment offense were described in detail at his December 13, 2005 parole suitability hearing, as follows:

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: So continuing, I'll read into the record the offense summary, first from the probation officer's report dated December 18, 1985, pages one through seven. "On May 11th, 1984, in the early morning hours, San Jose police officers responded to a reporting party at the 7-Eleven store in San Jose, California. Responding officers reported that the victim, Mr. Russell Prellwitz was observed to have had a facial (indiscernible) which appeared to have been caused by a blunt object. Mr. Russell Prellwitz advised officers that his son, Steven Prellwitz hit him in the face and head with a mallet type hammer. Investigating officers proceeded to the residence of Russell Prellwitz to check on the safety of the mother, Lola (phonetic) Prellwitz, and daughter Christianne (phonetic) Prellwitz. Upon approaching the front door of the residence, officers thought they heard a moaning sound from the interior of the house. The officers observed the front door open and observed Steven Prellwitz running across the living room floor. Steven Prellwitz threw an eight to ten-inch kitchen type knife in the direction of the officers. Additional police units arrived and a systematic search of the residence was conducted. Officers noted that the doorway to the northwest bedroom was fully opened and observed two female bodies lying on the floor in a close proximity to each other. Officers noted that there were signs of a violent struggle. The victim Lola Prellwitz, mother, aged 49, was found lying on her left side with both arms together. She was wearing a salmon colored nightgown that was pulled up above her waist. Officers observed a heavy blood concentration in the chest area with small defense type wounds in the right palm under the thumb and on the right outside wrist. Her entire body from head to foot was smeared with blood. Victim Christianne Prellwitz, sister, aged 23, was lying on her back. Officers observed that she was wearing a dark blue nightgown which was pulled up above the waist and a pair of glasses were resting against the right side of her neck just under her chin. The victim, Christianne Prellwitz, face, neck, and upper body was smeared with blood, and there appeared to be two large stab wounds visible in the center of the victim's throat. Blood smears were also observed on her lower extremities. Officers proceeded to the address of Steven Prellwitz [] as they felt he was possibly there. Officers proceeded directly into the bedroom and placed Steven Prellwitz under arrest."

Secondly, I'm going to read from the Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeals, State of California. This was filed April 24th, 1987. "In the early morning hours of May 11, 1984, Steven Prellwitz, then 26, attacked his 55-year-old father, Russell, in his parents' garage, opening a wound requiring stitches in the back of his father's head and fracturing his forearm with a blow from a rubber mallet, usable for auto repair. Their struggle ended when his wife, Lola, grabbed their son in a headlock. Russell left the house and drove off to seek help thinking Steven would chase him. Instead, another struggle ensued inside the home culminating in the bedroom of his sister, Christianne. Steven ended the lives of his mother at the age of 49 and his sister at the age of 23. Lola suffered eight mortal life wounds puncturing her heart, lungs, windpipe, and stomach, as well as several bruises and minor cuts. Christianne suffered one mortal knife wound which punctured her windpipe and esophagus and four less serious knife wounds to her neck as well as bruises and other minor lacerations. Steven was quickly arrested and was treated later that day for a collapsed left lung which he thought resulted either when his father hit him with the mallet or when his sister struck him possibly with a table lamp. . . . .

Sir, did you commit this offense?

INMATE PRELLWITZ: Yes, ma'am, I did.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: Can you explain to us why you were there that day and the events immediately preceding the incident?

INMATE PRELLWITZ: Specifically, I was there to try to get a rental agreement redone between me and my mother. We were the co-executives of an estate. My grandfather had passed away five or six months before, and in his will, he made me and my mother Lola, co-executors. And me and my mom and my sister were all to receive, I guess, an equal portion of the estate. A ranch style house of $135,000. There had been a lot of arguments, and I had obtained a rental agreement and had moved in with my wife and three kids into this residence - - my grandfather's residence, to fix it up. It needed a lot of repair. And after - - the agreement was that we would live there for six months before we would have to sell the residence. My parents had decided to break the agreement and to sell the residence earlier and had obtained a lawyer. I had to do the same. I was advised by the probate lawyer, I think Mr. McCann (phonetic). And it became very heated as far as arguments about the house. There's a lot of family infighting and history going back, especially between my mother and my ex-wife, Gina (phonetic), my first wife. And things just escalated, and then - -. . . .

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: So my thought is if - -had you hired to (sic) lawyer at this point? Were you working with an attorney?

INMATE PRELLWITZ: There was a lawyer that handled the actual will. I think his name was McCann, and he said he wasn't qualified to - - he couldn't represent me because he was already doing the will. And my mother had obtained a lawyer. And he suggested that I get my own lawyer on the rental agreement issue. We had agreed to pay the house payment. I think it was $88 a month, and then my parents wanted to move me out before the six months or to charge us several hundred dollars a month rent. . . . .

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: Now, beyond or before that - -


PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: - - you knew the history of your mother's problems.


PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: Psychological problems. And you knew the history of your sister, of course. You knew what was kind of happening with her life as well, right?


PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BYRSON: All right. So what was in your mind? What did you think you were going to gain by going over to their house and basically apparently, you know, again becoming embroiled in this discussion?

INMATE PRELLWITZ: Yeah, I understand your question. It's points well taken. My sister wasn't part of the agreement. The agreement was between me and my mother. We were co-executors. So I wanted to deal with my mother. My mother - - I think you referred to had a long history of schizophrenia and mental illness. And she was under a lot of stress, as were we all then. Any my goal was to get her alone, to talk to my mother, and to get her to change this rental agreement because she's the only one who could do that between me and my mother.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BYSON: What kind of relationship did you have with your mother just one - - on-one at that point?


BRYSON: Was it adversarial, or what was it?



INMATE PRELLWITZ: Oh, adversarial. No. No. My father's and me were more adversarial than my mother. My mom was relatively confused by the whole thing, but she was determined to get us out of the house or to pay an additional rent. It was more centered on her problems with my wife, Gina, which again, went back into our high school days, than it was I think, personally directed against me. I wanted to get my mother alone, and specifically I knew that if I could get my mom alone and talk to my mom alone that I could get an agreement, but not with my father there. I had gone to the residence the weekend before, on the Friday before, on the fourth I believe it was, and tried to wait for my father to leave the house so I could talk to my mother. But he stayed until I think around seven in the morning, and it was obvious that he wasn't going to leave. So I - - me and him - -we just left together. And I didn't bring - - of course, I didn't tell my father that I wanted to talk to my mother alone, because he wanted her to obey the whole issue with the sports car - - my sister had bought a Z28 that was, like $17,000, and they had cosigned for this car. And I believed at the time that that's why they were pressuring us to either pay more on the rent or to move out so the house could be sold more quickly. And I was quite angry about that, that they broke this agreement and that it was over because of a sports car my sister had that they had co-signed. So that was on my mind as I went over there that day, and I was probably angry about that with my father who had signed the loan. And that might have been his concern perhaps why he didn't want my mother to make a new agreement.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BYRSON: All right. So continue, then, your story, please.

INMATE PRELLWITZ: So you want me to - - okay, I got you. I'm almost lost - - what happened that morning. Okay. I went over the following Friday, which was the date - - on the 11th. Again, I wanted to wait until my father would leave. He used to leave about 6:30 in the morning, and my mother left an hour or so later to her job. And during that time, when my father let me into the house as he did the week before, and we went into the kitchen, and he had coffee going as I remember. He was fixing some coffee, and he offered me a cup. I didn't drink coffee then. I asked about my dog Raj (phonetic). It's a male collie. We weren't able to keep him at my house because of my wife's allergies so he stayed at my parents' house. And he was out in the garage. So I asked if I could see him, and he said yes. And when I went out to the garage, my dog Raj was out there, and I noticed that my sister's sports car, the Z28 that I mentioned, was out in the garage. I was already mad about it. I didn't even know my sister was - - my sister was living back and forth with her boyfriend. She wasn't often at the residence, so I was surprised to see the car in the garage. I made some comments because when I was playing with Raj, I noticed that there was a couple of pieces of large cardboard under the car. And I made some comments how can this $17,000 dollar car that's such a big deal be leaking oil already. And my father came out to the garage, and said that it wasn't. And he got down under the car, and during this time there had been an exchange of words between me and my dad about - - he had made some comment about my wife being a warden and my wife - - this went back - - we had a lot of disagreements - - we had a phone conversation a few nights before where he said that - - he put it nicely that she had emasculated me in the marriage, and I was pretty angry. I was basically of a mind set that if he smarted off again kind of thing, that I was going to show him that I was still a man kind of thing and, you know, fight with him. That was in my mind. And my wife encouraged me in that, too. And that was on my mind. And when he bent down and had made the comments that he did, I was up against a picnic table, and I grabbed - - it was a mallet, a long wooden handle with a rubber mallet, and I grabbed it and struck my father as he was kneeling by the sports car. I believe I hit him in the head, and as he got up, I swung at him again, and I think the handle hit him in his arm, perhaps where he broke his left - - I think that's probably the blow that broke the bone in his arm. And he had - - he came up and tackled - - he came up and grabbed me, and we fell against the table. I dropped the rubber mallet that I remember, and my father had picked it up, and we had separated, and that's when I know he swung a blow, and he hit me. And I believe that's where I obtained the injury on my left side. I had fractured ribs, and I believe my lung collapsed. All I knew was I couldn't breather after that point because I grabbed my father, and I threw him into the car. His head hit on the glass part of the window, and I remember I saw blood was on the car window. But I'm not sure if that was later that I saw that in the police reports, on the pictures. But I remember I pushed his head into the car, and we fell to the ground, and as we got up, my father had the rubber mallet. He was holding onto it, and I had my arms around him. And that's when I heard the door open behind me, and my mother came into the garage. And I asked her for help. I think my father testified to this. I'm not sure. But she came up and grabbed me from behind by the throat and pulled me off. And I had to let go of my father because I couldn't catch my breath. And I actually couldn't breathe at all after that. And my father - - out of the corner of my eye, I saw him run out of the garage into the kitchen area, but I don't - - I never saw him after that. And at that point I finally got my mother's arm from around my throat, and I pushed her behind me. She went into some boxes, fell over into some cardboard boxes. It was next to the car there. And I pursued - - I went into the house, and as I got into the kitchen area there, I stopped - -



PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: You pursued. You used the word pursued.

But what were you pursuing there?

INMATE PRELLWITZ: Well, I wanted to get out of there. The car was pushed up against the wall. There was boxes on both sides of the garage. The door - - I guess the side door of the alley was blocked.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: What about the main garage door? Was that closed also?

INMATE PRELLWITZ: Yes, that was also closed.


INMATE PRELLWITZ: So, I went into the house. The house was dark, fairly dark. This was 6:30 or so in the morning, and I went in, and as I went through the door, I realized my father is somewhere here. And I remember when he ran into the house, he ran in so quickly that my first thought was he's going to get a gun. Although personally, I've never known my father to own a gun, but that was what I thought at the time. And as I went into the house, I stopped in the kitchen and realized that I didn't know where my father was. And I didn't - -

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER BRYSON: Describe your father to me relative to you because you're a pretty big man. What was his status?

INMATE PRELLWITZ: My dad - - I'm six-two to six-three, and my father is five-eleven. I have a picture of the family from those days ...

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