A San Mateo man serving life without parole for his role in a fatal gas station robbery at age 16 must be resentenced with consideration of his young age, immaturity and failure to appreciate the consequences, according to a state appellate court.
The First District Court of Appeal ruled Monday that Michael Pulido deserves the possibility of a sentence with the chance of release. The Attorney General’s Office can appeal the ruling, much as it successfully did in 2007 after a federal appeals court overturned his conviction based on jury instruction error.
Pulido was 16 at the time of the murder of Ramon Flores during a robbery of a Shell station in San Mateo on May 24, 1992. Pulido claimed his uncle, Michael Aragon, committed the murder and that Pulido didn’t participate in the crimes until later, when he opened a stolen cash register in his uncle’s car. Aragon claimed that Pulido committed the murder and robbery alone.
In 1993, he was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery under the so-called felony murder rule, in which a person who participates in a felony such as robbery can be held liable for a murder committed during the crime.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he participated in the office discussions to try Pulido as an adult and seek life without parole. The decision was made based on the “horrible” murder and Pulido’s juvenile record.
In Monday’s ruling, the court referenced a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that judges must consider certain factors and articulate them before imposing life without parole on juvenile offenders. A mandatory sentence without consideration violates the minor offender’s right against cruel and unusual punishment, the court ruled.
If Pulido is returned to San Mateo County for sentencing, a new judge must be named because the trial judge, Walter Harrington, has died. The current presiding Judge Robert Foiles will also have to allow a different judge to do the naming because he was the prosecutor in the Pulido case.
On top of the Supreme Court’s ruling, California law governing juveniles has also changed since Pulido’s conviction.
Last year, the governor also signed a bill authored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, that allows judges to reconsider life without parole sentences for juveniles after they serve at least 15 years in prison. A judge can then reduce the sentence to 25 years to life.
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