A Newport Beach man who killed a 22-month-old boy has been released from prison, but with the clock ticking on his own life.
Brian Laudenback, 58, was given a recall of sentence, with a three-judge appellate panel ruling that Laudenback should be placed in the care of his mother.
Under California Penal Code 1170, a court can recall a sentence if the prisoner is terminally ill and is expected to die within six months. It must also be deemed that the released prisoner would not be a threat to society.
Laudenback, who left the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo on April 30, has terminal bladder cancer that has spread to his lungs.
In March 1995, Laudenback was found guilty of killing Tyler Jaeger, the son of his then-girlfriend, Karey Jaeger. He was charged with murder in the second-degree, and he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Jaeger became an advocate for tougher sentencing for those who were found guilty of fatal child abuse, and in September 1996, the Tyler Jaeger Act was signed into law. The legislation increased the minimum penalty for such crimes from 15 years to life in prison to 25 years to life.
Laudenback was a 32-year-old house painter living with Jaeger, a special education teacher, when he was arrested in March 1994. He had been babysitting her son, who was staying home with a contagious eye illness, but in the first week, Tyler was hospitalized with a skull fracture. Laudenback said the child fell from a picnic table.
Within a week, the young boy sustained more injuries, and this time they were fatal. The toddler suffered broken bones and internal injuries consistent with beating. The severity of the injuries was such that they were compared to those caused by a car crash.
Laudenback confessed to kneeing the boy in the stomach, claiming that the incident had occurred during an alcoholic relapse.
“He’s been remorseful since it happened,” said Michael Beckman, Laudenback’s attorney. “He feels absolutely horrible about it, and he feels horrible that the mother and the grandfather, 24 years later, still are so hate-filled. Not for his benefit. He doesn’t care for him, but he wishes that they would be able to find peace somehow.”
Jaeger and members of her family called Laudenback a coward and a monster at the sentencing hearing.
The Board of Parole Hearings evaluated Laudenback and recommended him for parole twice within the last four years — on June 12, 2016, and on Feb. 5, 2020. The approvals were overturned by Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Gavin Newsom, respectively.
“We believe he’s suitable for parole, but the issue now is it was compassionate release, and whether he was within six months of terminal illness, and whether he poses a threat to the public if released,” Beckman said. “The parole board answered, ‘No.’ The secretary of [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] answered, ‘No,’ and they both recommended his release for compassionate release.
“The Orange County Superior Court didn’t agree, but the Court of Appeal did, and now he’s home for what little time he has left.”
Turner writes for Times Community News.