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Woman Who Killed Abusive Mate May Be Freed Early : Battered spouses: Geneva Love, who shot her husband to death in 1988, strikes a plea bargain that may allow her to leave prison next year. She earlier had sought clemency from Wilson.

October 04, 1994|PATT MORRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A woman who had sought executive clemency after she killed her abusive husband struck a plea bargain Monday that reduced her 17-years-to-life sentence to 12 years and probably will result in her release from prison sometime next year.

Geneva Love, whose petition for clemency to Gov. Pete Wilson had been accompanied by a letter of support from the trial judge, will finish serving her sentence in the same Arkansas prison where she has been for more than four years, said her attorney, Christina Cordoza of Monterey.

Love, 29, shot her husband, a Ft. Ord soldier, in 1988, after what her attorney said was protracted abuse. Wilson, who last year considered more than a dozen petitions for executive clemency by women who had killed spouses they said were abusive, singled out Love's case, noting that her record "offers a sympathetic picture of petitioner, but does not produce an easy answer to the question of clemency in her case."

In the current matter, Monterey Superior Court Judge Richard Silver granted Cordoza's writ of habeas corpus, and attorneys worked out an agreement for Love on Monday to plead to voluntary manslaughter, instead of the second-degree murder charge of which she was convicted in 1989.

The plea agreement may free Love from prison sooner than clemency would have. Wilson's clemency grant to convicted spouse-killer Brenda Aris last year reduced Aris' minimum sentence to 11 years from 15.

Love was pregnant with her second child when she killed her husband, Azell. She gave birth to her second son in prison. Both children are in Arkansas, as are her 13 brothers and sisters, who have worked on her behalf, circulating petitions of support. An Arkansas state senator has taken up her cause, certifying that he will help her find a job and a home when she is released.

Cordoza's writ had said that Love's trial attorney should have tried to introduce evidence of battered women's syndrome and used an expert on the syndrome. The trial attorney agreed, said Cordoza.

At that time, battered women's syndrome was still an unsettled area of law, allowed in some cases and not in others. Two years after Love was convicted of second-degree murder, the state evidence code was amended to allow testimony about the syndrome.

Cordoza says the trial judge, Robert M. Hinrichs of Monterey, had urged Wilson to grant clemency, writing that "if the evidence presented in the application had been presented at the trial, it is very likely that there would have been an acquittal instead of a conviction."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Dennis LaBarbera said Monday that "we would have had a very difficult time putting the case back together" for another trial, with so many witnesses scattered after the closure of Ft. Ord, where Love's husband was based.

"This was a compromise," said LaBarbera. "They got something of what they wanted--a reduction in the charge so she could get out earlier. We got something we wanted--at least we preserved a conviction and some of the punishment she'd get for killing somebody."

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