Los Angeles News

California man convicted at 16 resentenced under new law

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Edel Gonzalez has spent 22 years in prison for a crime he was convicted of at the age of 16.

Now at 38, Gonzalez will be eligible to be considered for parole as the first inmate under a new California law to have his life sentence reduced for a crime committed as a juvenile.

"He's a person that's grown to be a man of integrity," said Lydia Oregel, Gonzalez' sister. "I'm really proud of him."

At the age of 16, Gonzalez was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for his role in a 1991 attempted carjacking in Santa Ana. The incident took the life of 49-year-old Janet Bicknell, a Huntington Beach school employee.

Gonzalez was not the shooter in the crime and wasn't carrying a weapon, but was given the same sentence as the gunman - life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Last week, a judge in Orange County resentenced Gonzalez to 25 years-to-life. It's unclear when Gonzalez will go before a parole board to hear his case, but his sister Lydia Oregel said Wednesday that he has worked hard to become a better person.

"My brother has made a lot of change in his life, and I've seen him, and I've talked to him - he's been very remorseful," said Oregel.

Supporters of the law say inmates convicted for crimes they commit as children should be given a second chance because their brains are still developing and they are more vulnerable than adults.

"I think Edel Gonzalez is exactly the kind of person that this law contemplated," said Elizabeth Calvin of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. "We are happy to see that California has now in place a thoughtful, careful system for reviewing the sentences of people who were children at the time of their crimes."

Calvin says Gonzalez has been a model prisoner during the 22 years he's served, staying out of trouble, renouncing gang life and taking every school and rehabilitation program offered in prison.

At the resentencing hearing last week, Gonzalez expressed remorse for his role in the crime.

"There isn't a day that goes by when I'm not reminded of the wrong, the harm and the pain I've caused," he said. "If given the opportunity, I hope one day to help young kids stay away from gangs and their lies - kids that think there's no way out, as I did in my youth."

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed the law that allows inmates like Gonzalez to ask judges to reconsider their terms. California is now among 39 states with similar laws, after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed life in prison sentences for minors unconstitutional.

Oregel says her brother hopes he'll have the opportunity to help troubled youth stay out of trouble.

"What he would like to do is be able to share his story, to be able to talk to other kids about his own experience, you know, talk to kids that are going in that wrong direction and help them, you know, turn their lives around," said Oregel.

At the time of Gonzalez's initial sentencing, the victim's brother asked the judge to give all three defendants the death penalty.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office says it objected to the judge's decision at the resentencing hearing because of the violent nature of the crime, and the loss of an innocent life.

Under the law, inmates sentenced when they were minors can ask judges to reconsider their terms after they serve at least 15 years in prison, making them eligible for parole.

More than 300 inmates in California could be eligible to have their sentences reduced under this new law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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california, murder, legal, court case, los angeles news, jovana lara
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