LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A state appeals court panel has ordered a new hearing to determine if the case of a gang member who was convicted of the 1991 murder of a 16-year-old boy in Panorama City should be handled in juvenile court instead of adult court as a result of a voter-approved measure involving teenage defendants.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal directed a juvenile court on Tuesday, Oct. 19, to hold a transfer hearing, in which that court would determine where the case involving Rodolfo Gallegos should be handled.
“If the juvenile court determines it would have transferred Gallegos to adult criminal court, the adult court must reinstate the convictions and sentence,” the panel wrote in its 11-page opinion that conditionally reversed the judgment against Gallegos.
“If the juvenile court finds it would not have transferred Gallegos, the court must treat the convictions as juvenile adjudications and impose an appropriate disposition.”
Gallegos, now 46, was extradited from Mexico in March 2009 to be tried for the Aug. 24, 1991, shooting death of 16-year-old Kenneth Caldera and the attempted murders of four other people who were in a car with the victim.
The shooting occurred at Roscoe Boulevard and Willis Avenue as Caldera and some friends were driving home from a party. The group was headed toward Burbank after dropping off one person when another car, which contained Gallegos, pulled up alongside them.
Gallegos asked the group where they were from — apparently mistaking them for rival gang members — then pulled a handgun and opened fire as Caldera and his friends tried to tell him they didn’t belong to any gang, authorities said.
Nine shots were fired, with Caldera mortally wounded and two others injured by the gunfire, according to Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila.
“Gallegos subsequently told several fellow gang members that he committed the shooting and that he made a mistake because his victims were not members of a gang,” according to the appellate court panel’s latest ruling.
“Gallegos later fled to Mexico, telling his girlfriend she could date other people because he would not be back.”
Gallegos, who was arrested in Mexico in October 2008, was convicted in December 2010 of one count of first-degree murder and four counts of attempted murder. Jurors also found true allegations that he wielded the handgun and that the crimes were committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang.
He was sentenced in January 2012 to 85 years to life in prison, along with a consecutive five-year sentence on a gun enhancement.
In June 2013, a state appeals court panel rejected the defense’s contention that there was insufficient evidence against Gallegos. But that panel ordered a new sentencing hearing in light of a US Supreme Court ruling involving two juveniles convicted of murder.
He was subsequently re-sentenced to the same state prison term.
Prosecutors had earlier objected to the defense’s bid to send the case to juvenile court, with a judge subsequently ruling that he had “already been found unfit for juvenile court” in 2009 and that the voter-approved ballot measure was not retroactive and did not apply to him.
The appellate court panel cited case law involving another juvenile who had received a “fitness hearing” before his case was transferred to adult court and noted that did not preclude that juvenile from receiving a new hearing under Proposition 57 — the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 — because there are “key differences” between the new transfer hearing and the fitness hearings held for juveniles under the prior law.