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In re Masoner

April 2, 2009; as modified May 4, 2009

IN RE JAMES MASONER, ON HABEAS CORPUS.


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Peter Paul Espinoza, Judge. Reversed and remanded with directions. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BH004852).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klein, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Respondent and appellant, Board of Parole Hearings (hereafter, the Board), appeals from the superior court‟s order granting habeas corpus relief to petitioner and appellee, James Masoner. After concluding the Board‟s 2005 decision to deny parole was not supported by some evidence, the superior court granted the habeas petition and ordered that Masoner be released from custody. In its appeal, the Board contests only the superior court‟s remedial order directing Masoner‟s release.

The superior court‟s order releasing Masoner is reversed, and the matter is remanded with directions.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Masoner was convicted of second degree murder in 1984 arising out of a drunk driving incident. He was sentenced to a prison term of 15 years to life. Following a parole suitability hearing on August 25, 2005, the Board found him unsuitable for parole. Masoner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court, which issued an order to show cause returnable before the superior court. On January 28, 2008, the superior court granted the habeas petition and ordered Masoner‟s release. The Board appealed the superior court‟s ruling and filed a petition for writ of supersedeas asking for a stay. We granted the supersedeas writ and stayed the superior court‟s ruling pending further order.*fn1

THE COMMITMENT OFFENSE

The following description of the murder is taken from the transcript of the August 2005 parole suitability hearing.

On March 4, 1987, Masoner had lunch with business associates during which he consumed alcohol. At about 5:00 p.m., he attended a business-related party at which he drank a large amount of alcohol. He became so intoxicated that someone approached two of his colleagues and asked them to escort him home. The two colleagues, Dan Monnin and Tom Barber, could see Masoner was drunk and they agreed to take him home. Barber drove his own car and Monnin drove Masoner‟s 1983 Camaro with Masoner as a passenger.

Masoner had wanted to drive himself home. After Monnin and Barber refused to let him, he became uncooperative about giving directions. After searching unsuccessfully for a while, they stopped at a restaurant for coffee and something to eat. Masoner again tried to persuade his colleagues to let him drive, but they refused, telling him he was in no condition to leave on his own. Finally, they managed to find Masoner‟s house, which was up a hill at the end of a cul de sac.

Monnin pulled to the curb and turned off the engine. Leaving the keys in the ignition, he got out of the Camaro and went over to speak to Barber. Masoner got behind the wheel and sped down the hill. Within seconds, he had crashed the Camaro into a house at the bottom of the hill, punching a hole in one of its walls. The house was occupied by Timothy and Barbara Shaner and their two children, four-year-old Jessica and 18-month-old Morgan. The force of the crash propelled Masoner‟s car through three bedrooms, killing Jessica and injuring the other family members. A blood test administered 90 minutes after the crash registered a blood alcohol level of .23 percent.

THE BOARD'S FINDINGS

The hearing panel said it was denying parole "primarily . . . based on the commitment offense, and the other issue has to do with insight." The panel found that the commitment offense was aggravated because Masoner had been callous in deciding "to drive his car very, very drunk," "regardless of what the outcome of this might be. . . . [and] who might be hurt." The panel noted Masoner‟s very positive 2005 psychological evaluation, as well as his discipline-free incarceration, his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, and his good parole plans and family support. On the other hand, referencing ...


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