13 Oct Commentary: Gascón Gives Murderers a Chance
Why would L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón promulgate a policy directing his deputies NOT to attend parole hearings on behalf of victims, like rape victims and families of murdered relatives, so they can argue that violent offenders should not get out of prison early?
The answer is simple and repugnant: DA Gascón is more interested in supporting the interests of victimizers than those of victims, so not showing up at parole hearings increases the criminals’ chances to shorten their sentences, leaving victims to fend for themselves to ensure that justice is done.
The devastating impact of this policy occurred recently in the case of murderer Derek Eugene Pettis.
Pettis sought early parole from a life sentence he received for the 1994 cold-blooded killing of Bruce Bryan, a 39-year-old volunteer chaplain with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, and the attempted murder of L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Terrence Wenger, who was 31 years old when Pettis shot him in the in the eye and left him for dead.
Deputy Wenger encountered Pettis in the early morning of June 18, 1994, while Chaplain Bryan, known by many as the “Chaplain of the Hood” for his work counseling youthful offenders, was doing a ride-along with Wenger that night.
Wenger detained Pettis after he was involved in a brawl. In an act of compassion, Wenger chose not to take Pettis to jail and instead drove him to a Los Angeles motel where Pettis was staying.
No good deed goes unpunished. After Wenger opened the rear door of his patrol car and let Pettis go, Pettis savagely attacked Wenger, knocking him to the ground, where he hit his head and became unconscious. Pettis then removed Wenger’s firearm and shot him in the face with the intention of killing him.
Pettis, who was also known as “D Krazy,” then turned and fired several shots at Bryan in the patrol car. When Bryan tried to run away, Pettis caught up to him and executed him, despite Bryan’s pleas for mercy and Bryan’s jacket clearly identifying him as “CLERGY.”
In 1996, Pettis was convicted by a jury and sentenced to two life sentences. However, since he was 24 at the time, he was able to take advantage of a change in the law 22 years later in 2018 that designated anyone under the age of 26 as a youthful offender entitled to an early parole hearing.
That hearing took place in the summer of 2023. Pettis was there with his lawyer, but DA Gascón refused to let anyone from the DA’s office attend to advocate for the victims, Wenger and the Bryan family.
Unlike a DA who would get access to the parole file at the hearing, the victims are denied such access.
Wenger, who survived, lost his right eye and heroically returned to work at the Sheriff’s Department until retirement, wrote a letter to the parole board asking: “How can we know this evil will not again erupt following a sudden outburst of anger on his part?”
Without any input from the DA’s Office, the Parole Board found Pettis suitable for parole on Sept. 6, 2023. Gov. Gavin Newsom is the only person who can prevent this miscarriage of justice; he has several months to make his decision.
Since the DA’s Office refuses to help these victims, I have sent Gov. Newsom a detailed letter outlining why he should deny Pettis parole, including the fact that while in custody, Pettis was found to a have a lethal, jail-made knife (a“shank”) in his possession.
If Gov. Newsom hears enough of a public outcry, then he is more likely to reverse the Parole Board’s decision for Pettis’ parole, similar to what happened when he reversed the favorable parole decision Sirhan Sirhan received from the parole board.
To reach out to Gov. Newsom, please email him (email@example.com) to stop this miscarriage of justice from occurring.
Pettis is using this change of law to ask the state of California for mercy. Yet, Pettis showed no mercy when he brutally executed Chaplain Bryan as he pleaded for his life and shot Deputy Wenger in the face, leaving him for dead.
Justice was done when Pettis received his sentence and will continue to occur only if that sentence is fully served.