Week in Review : MAJOR EVENTS, IMAGES AND PEOPLE IN ORANGE COUNTY : COURTS : Convicted Youth Owes His Freedom to a Jury That Came to His Defense
Superior Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald last week could have sent 18-year-old Joeri DeBeer to state prison for 14 years, or to the California Youth Authority for up to five years. Instead, the judge let him walk out the door free with just three years probation, following an unprecedented hearing in which all 12 jurors who convicted DeBeer begged the judge to give him leniency.
DeBeer cried for 20 minutes as he hugged each juror and an alternate who had spoken on his behalf. Fitzgerald did not even make DeBeer return to Juvenile Hall, where he has been held for 14 months, to check out or pick up his things.
DeBeer readily admitted fatally shooting his legal guardian, Phillip A. Parsons of Dana Point, on April 9, 1985. Parsons, a convicted child molester, reportedly had sexually molested the boy numerous times over the four-year period that DeBeer had lived with him. DeBeer is a native of the Netherlands. His parents were unaware of Parsons’ background when they let their son come to live with him in the United States.
The jurors said they had no choice but to find DeBeer guilty of manslaughter, based on the facts. But many of them were immediately concerned that it would be wrong to send DeBeer to prison.
First one, then a second, then finally half a dozen of them visited DeBeer at Juvenile Hall and became even more convinced that he needed their help.
“He has already lived in prison for four years. There were no bars, but also no path for escape,” jury foreman Gary Carriger told the judge.
DeBeer’s attorney, Gary Proctor, said there is no question DeBeer would have gone at least to the Youth Authority if the jurors had not come back to show him support.
Fitzgerald did not say directly that the jurors had made the difference. But he told DeBeer that “a lot of people have placed an awful lot of trust in you; they obviously believe you are a very special young man.”
The district attorney’s office asked Fitzgerald to at least send him to the Youth Authority for a 90-day diagnostic study, the usual procedure in such cases to help a judge determine a sentence. But Fitzgerald said it wasn’t necessary in this case.
Fitzgerald approved a plan under which DeBeer will live with Syd and Jenny Ward and their two sons in Oakley, Contra Costa County. The Wards had met DeBeer at a motocross race. When they learned he had been convicted of Parsons’ killing, they wrote to Fitzgerald offering to take him in.