Charles Tyberg, the son of a retired deputy sheriff whose conviction in the February, 1983, slaying of a San Diego police officer was overturned, pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder as part of a plea bargain.
Tyberg, 20, was immediately sentenced by Orange County Superior Court Judge Myron Brown to a term of 17 years to life in state prison.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Rempel, the prosecutor in the case, said the slight, blond youth must serve a minimum of 8 1/2 years--minus the four years he has already spent in custody--before he is eligible for parole.
Tyberg was convicted three years ago of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Officer Kirk Johnson. After the trial--held in Orange County because the case received extensive publicity in San Diego--Tyberg was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison. At the time, Judge Brown called Tyberg "an extremely dangerous young man" and noted that he showed "an absolute absence of remorse."
Confession Ruled Invalid
Last June, however, the conviction was thrown out by the 4th District Court of Appeal, which found that San Diego homicide detectives "used deception to induce a confession" from Tyberg. At one point, the justices noted, investigators told the youth, who was 16 at the time: "We're here to help ya."
The confession was ruled inadmissible at Tyberg's second murder trial, which was scheduled to begin in Orange County on April 20--the date of Tyberg's 21st birthday. Prosecutors' efforts to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the conviction were unsuccessful.
Rempel said he sought a plea bargain in the case because prosecutors' chances of proving first-degree murder a second time were badly damaged by the appellate court's elimination of the confession. He said the youth's statement to police was the "key piece of evidence providing uncontroverted proof of premeditation."
"Once the 4th District Court decided to remove the confession from the case, we were faced with the prospect of having a first-degree murder charge without enough evidence to clearly establish it," Rempel said. "Additionally, the plea to a life sentence without any grounds for appeal is something we had to seriously consider.
"Given the nature of the crime, and the conduct of this defendant, we think it will be a long, long time before he ever gets out of prison."
Before agreeing to the plea bargain, prosecutors consulted with Johnson's widow, Patricia Johnson-Geurkink, and top police administrators, Rempel said. He said all sides generally agreed that "a (maximum) life sentence without the possibility of appeal was acceptable considering the state of the evidence."
Johnson-Geurkink could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Tyberg's mother, Christiane Tyberg, declined to be interviewed. Tyberg is her son by a previous marriage. When she remarried, Sheriff's Sgt. James Tyberg adopted the boy.
Police officials, meanwhile, said they had mixed emotions about the disposition of the case, which was widely publicized and emotional because it involved the death of a police officer.
"I can't say I'm not disappointed," said Ron Newman, vice president of the Police Officers Assn. and one of the homicide detectives who obtained the Tyberg confession that was thrown out.
"From a police officer's standpoint, it's disheartening that we're not talking about first degree. But having worked similar cases in the past, I guess I kind of understand it."
Police Chief Bill Kolender could not be reached for comment.
Defense attorney Clancy Haynes of Santa Ana said both he and his client were pleased with the plea agreement, primarily because it reduces Tyberg's potential sentence by 10 years--from 27 to 17--and shortens the length of time he must serve before qualifying for parole.
"I'm very happy because it's a guaranteed success as opposed to a possible big loss," Haynes said. "When I first got on the case last June, I said up front that if we were ever offered a second degree, I'd take it."
Haynes said he tendered four different plea arrangements to the district attorney's office, including one in which Tyberg would have pleaded to first-degree murder in exchange for sentencing to the California Youth Authority, from which he would have been eligible for parole at age 25.
After more than a month of negotiations, prosecutors decided a week ago to accept the plea bargain announced Wednesday, with the stipulation that Tyberg be sentenced immediately. Tyberg received 15 years to life for the second-degree murder charge; Judge Brown added two years to the term because Tyberg admitted using a firearm in the crime.
According to Haynes, Tyberg will benefit from the plea arrangement because a second-degree murder convict is typically viewed more favorably during parole review than one imprisoned for first-degree murder. Moreover, Haynes said, conviction on the lesser charge could be important if Tyberg's criminal record becomes an issue in the future.