A Santa Barbara judge has overturned a decision by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denying parole to an inmate who was present when his friend beat a 69-year-old man with a tire iron and then set the man ablaze.
Because of the decision by Superior Court Judge Frank J. Ochoa, Frank Pintye was released from Soledad State Prison on Thursday. He had served nearly 23 years for second-degree murder.
The judge ruled that Schwarzenegger had wrongly assumed that Pintye was just as responsible for the 1983 death of Donald Kenney as his accomplice, Martin Manning, who was convicted of first-degree murder. He also contended that the governor had not fully taken into account Pintye's record of achievement in prison.
"Because there is no evidence to support the governor's reversal decision, there is no legal cause to continue Mr. Pintye's imprisonment," the judge wrote in his decision, which was handed down last month.
Under the terms of a 1988 initiative, the governor may reverse the Board of Prison Terms when it recommends parole for inmates sentenced to life for murder. Pintye was granted parole on his ninth try, in 2004.
Pintye was a rail-thin, highly suggestible 19-year-old sailor on leave when he fell under the sway of Manning, a 44-year-old man well known to police and who had referred to himself as Rev. Manning of the Universal Life Church, according to Ochoa's decision.
Over several months, the two befriended Kenney and helped him with chores at his Carpinteria trailer. They were driving him to dinner Jan. 9, 1983, when Manning got out of the car with Kenney on a secluded road. A few minutes later, he returned with a bloody tire iron and, after driving away briefly, returned, poured gasoline on Kenney's body and ignited it.
Pintye at first denied any involvement but soon disclosed details of the crime and led investigators to the Santa Barbara marina where Manning had tossed the tire iron. He received a sentence of 15 years to life after pleading guilty.
"The evidence presented to the parole board was that Pintye had lesser responsibility, that he probably didn't know Manning was going to kill and that the homicide happened without him really knowing about it," said Raimundo Montes De Oca, an attorney in the Santa Barbara County public defender's office, which represented Pintye against the governor.
The county's prosecutor also supported Pintye's parole, pointing to his lesser role in the crime and an excellent prison record. Pintye participated in numerous prison programs, published poetry, established a "highly acclaimed" self-help curriculum, earned his bachelor's degree and piled up credits toward a master's degree in theology, according to Ochoa's decision.
In the governor's reversal, those factors were outweighed by what he called Pintye's "chilling depravity and pitilessness."
The state will not appeal the ruling, said Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger.
"While the governor made the decision on Mr. Pintye's case based on what he felt was in the best interests of public safety, he respects the role of the court in this matter," she said.
Tip Kindel, a spokesman for the Board of Prison Terms, said the judge's action "isn't a rare occurrence but doesn't happen every day."
Other courts have reversed gubernatorial parole decisions several times in the last few years, he said.