(FOX40.COM) –Marysville native Leon Lampkin Jr. was convicted of being an accessory to a double murder in 1998 and sentenced to two life terms in prison, but on Sept. 29 that judgment may be thrown out pending results of an evidentiary hearing in Yuba County.
“He should have never been convicted in the first place,” Lampkin’s sister Bertha Felix told FOX40.com.
In 1999, a Yuba County jury convicted Lampkin of the first-degree murders of brothers Alejandro and Leoncio Jimenez, attempted robbery and possession of a short-barrel shotgun, according to casetext.com. The jury determined that Lampkin was an accessory to murder but not the person who fired the fatal gunshots.
Official records show that during Lampkin’s hearing, the trial court instructed the jury on felony murder, citing that the law did not require that a defendant was the actual killer or acted with intent to kill. Under California law at the time, a person could be convicted of first-degree murder if it happened while a defendant was engaged in or an accomplice in the commission or attempted commission of robbery.
However, in 2018, former governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1437 (SB 1437), which changed the state’s murder law by limiting who can be prosecuted for murder and felony murder. According to SB 1437, a person who was an accessory to murder could not be convicted in the first degree. The law was also applied retroactively to those already convicted, including Lampkin.
Prior to SB 1437, Lampkin attempted to appeal his sentencing twice but was denied, according to records. After almost 25 years of incarceration, Lampkin will get another chance to plead his case before a judge.
“I’m not happy with how the courts first handled the case, but I have to focus on what’s happening now,” Felix said. “He served 25 years. He did his time. He’s been locked up almost his entire life. Based on the laws we have now he should be out. If he were to get convicted for the same thing today he would not get 25 years.”
Felix emphasized that Lampkin was convicted of being involved in the robbery, but not firing a weapon.
The person convicted of firing the gun that killed the Jimenez brothers is Marysville native Michael Owens. Court records show that on the night of the murders, Owens was found by law enforcement near the scene of the crime with gunshot wounds from a shoot-out that occurred during the robbery.
“They (Owens and Lampkin) went to the residence to commit a robbery. A gunfight erupted during the attempted robbery,” Yuba County District Attorney Clinton Curry told FOX40.com. “Leoncio or Alejandro managed to hit Owens three times prior to dying from their injuries.”
Curry said the former defendants knew what they were getting into.
“Lampkin and Owens both armed themselves with firearms and snuck up to the home of known drug dealers,” Curry said. “Committing an armed home-invasion robbery at night upon known drug dealers is about as dangerous a crime as you can commit. Lampkin and Owens committed the crime with complete indifference to whether the targets of the robbery lived or died.”
Lampkin was not located at the crime scene. However, court records say his DNA was found and used to connect him to the crime.
Owens was sentenced to three life terms without the possibility of parole.
“We do intend to call Owens as a witness in Lampkin’s case to try to help fill in some of the details of exactly how Lampkin participated in the robbery and murders,” Clinton said. “This is information that wasn’t available to us during the trial.”
Felix expressed dissatisfaction in the district attorney calling on Owens.
“I hate that they’re trying to pin them (Owens and Lampkin) against each other,” Felix said. “This isn’t a retrial. This is a resentencing based on new laws, but the DA keeps trying to find loopholes to not release my brother.”
Felix said she knew Owens and his family and that she keeps Owens in her prayers. She said she would never want to paint Owens in a bad light and thinks that they both have served enough time.
“Laws at the time were made to keep minorities, Blacks and Latinos in prison for longer. They often weren’t given fair trials,” Felix said. “I’m not one to always talk about race. I have more conservative views but let’s be honest, Yuba County back then was very discriminatory. I went to school there with KKK members. This new law fixes that,” Felix said.
The district attorney is strongly opposed to the release of Lampkin. Curry said the new law is beneficial in some cases, but in Lampkin’s, it isn’t.
“At this point, we have zero belief that Lampkin would be safe if released back into the community,” Curry said. “When Lampkin committed the robbery in this case in 1998, it was known that he had committed another armed robbery and that he was a suspect in a 1994 murder committed in Sacramento. We know he was an extremely dangerous individual. We are not aware of any efforts Lampkin has made to rehabilitate himself.”
“The crime happened when he was in his youth. He was 22 then and now he’s near 50, Felix said. “I know the statistics of people who reoffend but those are mostly people who don’t have support. Leon has an established family who is willing to hire him as an employee and provide him with a place to live. I’m willing to take responsibility and risk my career for him. We have the resources to help integrate him back into society.”
Lampkin served part of his time in Northern California before being transferred to a facility six hours away- making it difficult for his family to visit, according to Felix. She added that if her brother is released he will not be “anywhere near Yuba County.”
An evidentiary for resentencing hearing was scheduled at 9 a.m. on Sept. 8 at Yuba County Superior Court, 215 5th Str., Marysville, however, it was continued to Sept. 29.