Governor Publicly Announces Commutation of Sentence for Spolin Law Client

Posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 at 11:37 am    

California Governor Gavin Newsom has announced the commutation (reduction) of sentence for a Spolin Law client who was previously serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The decision was announced on June 26, 2020. A copy of the commutation, signed by Governor Newsom as well as Secretary of State Alex Padilla, was released to state and national media outlets shortly after the commutation.

James Heard Commutation

The Spolin Law client’s commutation was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom and Secretary of State Alex Padilla

A commutation of sentence is a method that state governors can use to cut short a person’s sentence. It is often used when someone has received an overly harsh sentence or has shown rehabilitation during his or her time in prison. A governor’s commutation is similar to the more well-known governor’s pardon. While a pardon erases a criminal conviction completely, a commutation simply cuts short the person’s sentence. State governors can commute or pardon for state crimes; the President can commute or pardon for federal crimes.

Governor Newsom explained his decision to commute the client’s sentence by describing the client’s excellent behavior, educational program participation, various certificates, and other noteworthy aspects of the client’s life.

In his commutation announcement, Governor Newsom said the following:

In 1998, James Heard, shot his romantic rival, Christopher Chessmar. Mr. Heard then directed his crime partner to shoot Mr. Chessmar. His crime partner complied, killing Mr. Chessmar. On March 20, 2000, the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, sentenced Mr. Heard to life without the possibility of parole for murder.

Mr. Heard was 22 years old at the time of the crime and is now 44. He has been incarcerated for more than 21 years. He has expressed sincere remorse for killing Mr. Chessmar.

While serving a sentence with no hope of release, Mr. Heard devoted himself to self-improvement. Mr. Heard has maintained an exemplary disciplinary record while in prison. He has completed self-help programming and earned an associate degree and art certificates.

Prison staff, including work supervisors and correctional staff, have commended Mr. Heard for his generosity and artistic talents, as well as his interpersonal and leadership skills. Mr. Heard has lived in an honor dorm since 2004. He has donated his artwork to various charitable causes. Mr. Heard has also volunteered his time to crochet hats and scarves for charity.

Mr. Heard committed a serious crime that took the life of Mr. Chessmar. Since then, Mr. Heard has dedicated himself to his rehabilitation and becoming a productive citizen. I have carefully considered and weighed the evidence of his positive conduct in prison, the fact that he was a youthful offender, his long­term confinement, and his good prospects for successful community reentry. I have concluded that Mr. Heard merits the opportunity to make his case to the Board of Parole Hearings so it can determine whether he is suitable for parole.

This act of clemency for Mr. Heard does not minimize or forgive his conduct or the harm it caused. It does recognize the work he has done since to transform himself.

The client’s family was extremely happy to hear this good news.

To learn more about commutations and other types of post-conviction relief, call one of the Spolin Law attorneys at (866) 716-2805.


Trader Joe’s Shooting Suspect Facing Murder Charges, Despite Not Firing the Bullet that Killed an Employee

Posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2018 at 11:26 am    

Many people think of murder as a fairly straightforward crime. You may think that, regardless of the particulars, you can face a murder charge if your actions result in someone else’s death. Regardless of how you conceive murder as a criminal offense, you would likely be surprised to hear about a man facing murder charges despite someone else firing the shot caused a death. This is the exact situation of Trader Joe’s shooting suspect Gene Evin Atkins. While a police officer discharged the bullet that struck Trader Joe’s employee Melyda Corado, prosecutors are trying to hold Atkins responsible through a legal principle known as the “provocative act doctrine.”

If you’re facing murder charges in the Los Angeles area, you need the strong legal counsel of an experienced murder defense attorney. The law surrounding homicide crimes is extremely complicated. At Spolin Law P.C., we know how to recognize the minute details that govern these offenses, and develop a defense based off that information.

To schedule a free and confidential case consultation, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

Atkins is Accused of Initiating Chain of Events that Led to Murder in Trader Joe’s Shooting

The basis of the case against Atkins is that his actions led to Corado’s death, even though Atkins himself didn’t pull the trigger. That chain of events begins with Atkins stealing his grandmother’s car. He then kidnapped a 17-year-old female, and fled in the vehicle. Police say he fired shots out the back window at officers who were pursuing him.

Atkins’ flight eventually led him to crash the car outside Trader Joe’s. After the crash, Atkins attempted to flee into the store. As he ran, he continued to shoot at the police, who returned fire. It was during this shootout that a police-fired bullet struck and killed Corado, who was exiting the store as Atkins was entering.

Understanding the Provocative Act Doctrine

Atkins’ murder charge stems from a principle of California law known as the “provocative act doctrine.” The main concept of this doctrine states that if your actions provoke another person to commit a killing, you may be liable for murder.

In Atkins’ case, the prosecution is trying to show that he intentionally set into motion a series of actions, and the outcome of those actions was Corado’s death. The fact that he was not trying to bring about Corado’s death does not matter. Because he kidnapped someone and shot at police as he fled, he allegedly acted with conscious disregard for human life. In firing the shot that killed Corado, the police were simply responding to the circumstances, placing the responsibility for the murder on Atkins.

The California Supreme Court has clarified the scope of the provocative act doctrine, stating that its application must be based on intent. While you don’t have to commit the deadly act yourself, you must have the intent of acting in such a way that endangers others.

Contact a Murder Defense Attorney at Our Firm for Help Today

Whichever section of the law your murder charge is brought under, the most important aspect of your defense is reliable legal representation. Spolin Law P.C. should be your first call for assistance with murder charges in Los Angeles. Our attorneys are dedicated to fighting aggressively for you in court, and they will do so by utilizing a number of possible defenses, their years of experience, and their knowledge of the complicated laws that govern these cases.

Schedule your free consultation with a murder defense attorney by calling us at (310) 424-5816, or filling out our online form.