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Woman whose sex assault case tested D.A. Gascón’s policy on juveniles is charged with murder

George Gascón in June 2021
Los Angeles Dist. Atty. George Gascón, shown at a news conference last year, later retreated from his all-or-nothing rule against trying juveniles as adults.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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The person who committed a sexual assault that sparked fierce debate over Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s policy of not trying juveniles as adults has been charged with murder and robbery in Kern County, authorities there said.

Kern County Dist. Atty. Cynthia Zimmer said in a brief interview Tuesday that Hannah Tubbs is accused of the 2019 killing of a man in Lake Isabella, a community near the Kern River. Tubbs, a transgender woman, identified as a man at the time of the killing and was charged under her former name, James Tubbs.

Tubbs was also charged with robbing the victim during the same incident, according to a criminal complaint made public Tuesday.

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Tubbs entered a not-guilty plea during a court appearance Tuesday afternoon and will remain in custody in lieu of $1 million bail, Zimmer said. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 23.

Zimmer declined to provide details of the alleged killing, including how the victim died. She described the victim only as an “adult male.”

Tubbs was transferred from a lockup in Los Angeles to one in Kern County after the robbery charge was filed May 6, records show. Zimmer said prosecutors decided to proceed with a murder charge this week.

In 2014, the then-17-year-old Tubbs sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl in the bathroom of a Palmdale restaurant, but was not arrested until January 2021, when Gascón had been elected district attorney. Tubbs was allowed to plead guilty in Los Angeles County’s juvenile court and sentenced to two years in custody because of a policy Gascón implemented that barred juveniles from being tried as adults.

Gascón’s opponents seized on the case as a sign of the recklessness of his policies and his refusal to make exceptions — a furor that deepened when The Times and Fox News published recordings and transcripts of Tubbs’ jailhouse phone calls. In the calls, Tubbs can be heard mocking the lightness of her sentence and referring to her victim as “meat.”

The embattled district attorney later admitted he’d made a mistake in the handling of the Tubbs case and retreated from his all-or-nothing rule to allow juveniles to be prosecuted as adults in some situations.

But the reform-minded prosecutor has defended his overall approach to juveniles, citing research that suggests the brain is not fully developed before age 25 and that the proper setting to rehabilitate people who commit crimes while underage is a juvenile treatment facility.

A spokesman for Gascón said he was unaware of the murder case. Zimmer said her office did not inform L.A. County prosecutors of the homicide investigation at the time of Tubbs’ prosecution on sexual assault charges in Palmdale.

Shortly after news of the Kern County filing broke, critics again chastised Gascón for enacting a policy that allowed an adult accused in a murder to be housed alongside teens in L.A. County.

“George Gascón is dangerous,” tweeted L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Shea Sanna, who was involved in the sexual assault case against Tubbs. “He put a murderer/repeat child sexual predator in a juvenile facility with kids.”


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