A 17-year-old suspect in the drive-by slaying of two Saticoy men cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole if he is convicted, a Ventura County judge ruled Wednesday.
The ruling by Municipal Judge Charles W. Campbell Jr. was a victory for the Ventura County public defender's office. Deputy Public Defenders Neil B. Quinn and Christina Briles argued that Proposition 114, approved by voters in 1990, prevents prosecutors from tacking a "special circumstance" allegation onto a murder charge in cases where the defendant is 17 years old or younger.
Edward (Tony) Throop, 17, is accused of shooting Rolando Martinez and Javier Ramirez as they left a baptism party April 7. The special-circumstance allegation was that more than one person was murdered. If Throop was convicted of both the killings and the special circumstance, the only sentence possible would be life in prison without parole.
Throop has been found unfit for juvenile court and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Campbell's courtroom today. Briles declined to say whether the favorable ruling Wednesday might prompt Throop to change his not-guilty plea. She said Throop still could face a prison term of 30 years or more if he is convicted of all the charges.
Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said Campbell erred and said his deputies will try to refile the special-circumstance allegation when the case gets to Superior Court. If Throop tries to change his plea today, Bradbury said, prosecutors will try to delay the change of plea and appeal Campbell's ruling.
Three other juveniles have been charged with murder in the shooting. One of them, a 15-year-old, must be tried in juvenile court under state law, but prosecutors are attempting to have the other defendants, both 16, stand trial as adults.