Monday, March 24, 2014

#InTheNews: San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office assists victims’ families

By Sandra Emerson, Redlands Daily Facts
Posted: |

REDLANDS >> District Attorney Mike Ramos started the Lifer Parole Unit in 2003, after being elected to the post in 2002.

Ramos had graduated from Redlands High School the year before the rape and murder of 15-year-old Paula Hernandez while walking home from Redlands High School on March 22, 1977.

More than 25 years later, he decided to establish the unit in Paula’s honor, almost naming it for her, with the purpose of assisting victims and families of victims whose offenders are sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

“Her spirit remains as an inspiration to help families of murder victims,” Ramos said.

Prosecutors assigned to the Lifer Parole Unit attend so-called suitability hearings for parole held for inmates sentenced to life for crimes committed in San Bernardino County.

The Victims’ Bill of Rights Law of 2008, or Marsy’s Law, was approved by California voters in November 2008 to ensure victims and families of victims are informed of all parole procedures and the parole process.

Victims have the right to provide information to be considered by the parole board and to be notified of the parole or release of an offender.

Prior to Marsy’s Law, the maximum parole denial was five years. Now, inmates can be denied for seven, 10 and 15 years.

Over the years, Paula’s family has been notified of the scheduled parole hearings for John Zenc, now 57, who was convicted of the girl’s murder. A prosecutor has also attended the hearings.

“They’re there to answer our questions, to help us if we need anything. They’re there for us,” said Ruth Lopez, Paula’s sister.

In the 1990s, Ramos met with Paula’s family and attended a parole hearing.

At the time, Ramos said, Zenc was not remorseful and showed no effort toward rehabilitation.

“I was very concerned this individual would not only get out, but I wanted to make sure he was punished — he took the life of Paula at a very young age, and also that he doesn’t harm any other citizens upon being release from prison,” Ramos said.

With a parole hearing for Zenc approaching, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Dawson is preparing her case on why he should remain behind bars.

Dawson has been assigned to Paula’s case and attends Zenc’s hearings on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

To read more articles in the series, click on the links below:

Redlands family fights for justice for Paula Hernandez, 37 years after murder

Paula Hernandez murder impacted community of Redlands

The day Paula was murdered on her way home

Convicted murderer John Zenc to be considered for parole May 22

Monday, March 17, 2014

#InTheNews: Fourteen prosecutors added in San Bernardino County

Fourteen new prosecutors have been hired to work for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. From Left to Right: Leonard Chang, Thomas Perkins, Cassandra Helmuth, Alicia Marrujo, Philip Stemler, Angela Gerovac, Julius Abanise, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith, District Attorney Michael Ramos, Justin Crocker, Rebecca Goodrich, Evan Acker, Nasim Razmara, Kevin Christensen, Shannon Wainwright, and Colin Child.

Posted: |

For the first time in years, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office has added prosecutors to its team.

Fourteen attorneys have been hired in the past four months — a number that will help ease attorney case loads and better serve the community, officials said.

“This will be a tremendous help,” District Attorney Michael A. Ramos said. “For the office, it’s a morale booster to have this fresh energy. It gets us all motivated again.”

When they first put out the announcement last year, more than 600 people applied, Ramos said. They eventually whittled that down to the 14 new hires.

“These lawyers we hired are just amazing,” Ramos said.

But this hiring move is focused on replacement, not addition. The new hires are meant to fill vacancies created by other attorneys who retired, became a judge, or left the office. The department is still far from previous staffing levels, Ramos said.

It’s been years since fresh faces have been brought in to the District Attorney’s office and the recent hiring has garnered optimism among the current staff.

“It allows us to serve the community a lot better,” said Bruce Brown, chief deputy district attorney based in Victorville. “Even though we had a cutback in staff, specifically in prosecutors, there has not been a cutback in crimes. In fact, there has probably been a little bit of an upward tick.”

The new attorneys came in to San Bernardino County knowing it was a busy district.

“Yes there’s a large case load,” said Cassandra Helmuth. “But I think the cases are very interesting.”

“The case load may be large but there’s always something going on and it keeps you on your toes. I like staying busy.”

Helmuth, who is currently based in the West Valley Superior Courthouse in Rancho Cucamonga, went to UC Santa Barbara for undergraduate school and the University of San Diego for law school.

The 29-year-old, originally from the Beaumont area, said she always found criminal law interesting.

“I think the work is fulfilling and it’s a job that matters,” Helmuth said. “As soon as I started interning I loved being in the courtroom.”

Colin Child, another new hire, said he wanted to be a prosecutor since he was a freshman in college.
The 28-year-old San Bernardino resident was a criminal justice major at Sacramento State University before he attended McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

He said he originally intended to work for the FBI, but that changed when he heard a Sacramento County prosecutor speak.

“He spoke with us at length about the office and the cases he tried, some of the impacts his cases had on victims of crime,” Child said. “My jaw was on the floor, I was just very impressed with him. That was kind of my epiphany.”

Child said he came back to Southern California after law school because there were no job prospects in Sacramento.

Child said he was overwhelmed at first by the case load in San Bernardino County.
“But once you start doing the cases, learning the ropes, it gets a lot easier. You learn to manage it,” he said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Congratulations to Deputy District Attorney T. Colclough of the West Valley Division Gang Unit

Congratulations to Deputy District Attorney T. Colclough of the West Valley Division Gang Unit for obtaining a guilty verdict in the case of Daniel “Demon” Chavira who robbed a local restaurant. Two other defendants, who assisted in the crime, have already been sentenced to state prison. Chavira faces up to 70 years in state prison. According to witness testimony, two masked suspects entered the location. One of the defendants pulled out a gun and waived it around and then ordered everyone to get on the floor. A second masked suspect grabbed the manager and demanded that she open the safe in the office. After stealing $40 from the safe, the suspects ran from the location and were eventually caught and arrested by officers from the Ontario Police Department.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Look Inside: A prosecutor’s perspective on crimes against children

EDITOR’S NOTE: Part one of a two-part series.

By Lori Fowler
San Bernardino Sun

Deputy District Attorney Melissa Rodriguez has learned a few things since she filed her first child pornography case nearly six years ago.

Part of her job includes hearing accounts of crimes and seeing evidence of the most unimaginable assaults on children. But when it comes to pictures or videos, she now knows not to look too close.

“I can’t look at their faces or their eyes because that’s what I remember,” Rodriguez said. “That will stick with me forever.”

A case from about three years ago remains a troubling memory. It involved a father and his 9-month-old daughter.

“That stayed with me for a really long time,” she said. “I can still close my eyes and see that video.”

Rodriguez handles human-trafficking cases throughout San Bernardino County. Before that she spent almost 5½ years in the district attorney’s Crimes Against Children Unit.

“Some cases are harder than others, some stick with you longer than others,” she said. “It’s hard not to take it home with you.”

Rodriguez credits her after-work sanity to two things — a strong family support system and fitness.

“I work out like crazy,” she said. “It’s such a huge stress reliever.”

But it’s her husband and three boys — 18, 16 and 10 — who really help.

“I talk about some of the cases at home. There are times when you have those cases where you go ‘I cannot believe what I saw today,’” Rodriguez said. “For the most part, I try to have some sense of normalcy at home. We try to have dinner every night as a family.”

For Karen Schmauss, a deputy district attorney based in Rancho Cucamonga, it wasn’t easy to separate her home and work life the first time she worked in the Crimes Against Children Unit.

She started in 1987, when she didn’t yet have children of her own.

But then she got pregnant in 1989 and was prosecuting sex crimes against children with a baby at home.

“It was much more difficult when I was the parent of an infant child,” she said.

Schmauss left the unit in 1992 and transferred to general felonies and the gang unit. She came back to crimes against children in 2008. She works on cases dealing with major crimes against children — anything from physical or sexual abuse to death.

“I don’t personalize it like I did when my child was small,” she said. “And I’m glad I don’t have small children.”

One of Schmauss’ first cases was that of twin sisters in their 30s who molested about six teenage boys, ranging in age from 13 to 16. The women would entice the boys to skip school by furnishing alcohol, then have sex with them, Schmauss said.

In 1990, she prosecuted the case of an amateur filmmaker who befriended an 11-year-old neighbor girl, offered her $1,000 to star in a pornographic movie and filmed himself having sex with her. The girl’s mother accompanied her to the hotel and sat in the lobby while this went on, Schmauss said.

In 2012, she had the case of two brothers who tortured a 3-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother with a ‘stun gun.’ The girl had close to 30 pairs of burn marks from her neck to her ankles. The children’s mother was also charged for not removing them from the home after they were tortured.

Schmauss also relies on a supportive home life, which right now includes a husband — who retired from law enforcement — and three dogs. Her children, now 19 and 23, are out of the house.

“I want to talk about the cases at home, get it out of my system,” Schmauss said. “If there’s a terrible case, I want to talk about the details and get them out of my head.”

So why do they choose to work in an environment where they are constantly reminded of how evil people can be?

“One of the things that drew me to this profession is that I can be a voice for that child who can’t speak for themselves,” Rodriguez said.

It’s gratifying “to be that person that says I can do something for you. ... I can make (the defendant) accountable,” she said.

Schmauss said there is a sense of vindication every time she puts a molester or abuser behind bars.

“When I did it the first time around, sentences were not as long then as they are now,” she said. “But the sentencing scheme has changed dramatically. We have a lot more bargaining power now.”

Schmauss said she really enjoys what she does and that she can’t think of any other assignment she would want.

“You’ve taken somebody off the street who’s hurt children — whether sexually or physically — and hopefully put them away long enough so they won’t hurt someone else,” Schmauss said. “That is tremendously satisfying.”