A state appeals court on Monday upheld three first-degree murder convictions in the 1995 stabbing death of an Agoura Hills teenager killed in a fight over marijuana, but reduced the conviction of a fourth defendant to second-degree murder.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered Anthony Miliotti's murder conviction to be reduced, but upheld the first-degree murder convictions of Brandon Hein and brothers Jason and Micah Holland. All four were from the Conejo Valley.
Jimmy Farris, the 16-year-old son of a Los Angeles Police Department officer, was stabbed in the heart during a brawl in the backyard fort of Jimmy's friend, Mike McLoren, in Agoura Hills.
Jason Holland admitted to stabbing Farris, saying he was trying to protect his younger brother, Micah. Hein and Miliotti were also involved, but Miliotti's lawyers argued that he did not join in the fighting.
Authorities said Hein, Miliotti and the Holland brothers, who were teenagers at the time, had gone to the fort to buy or rob marijuana from McLoren, who was also stabbed but recovered.
Last month, defense lawyers for the four men asked the state Court of Appeal for new trials or reduced sentences, arguing that the terms imposed are cruel and unusual and that prosecutors failed to prove elements necessary to uphold the sentences.
In December, parents on both sides of the case attended the first public screening of "Reckless Indifference," a documentary critical of authorities' handling of the case.
Jason Holland was the only defendant who admitted wielding a knife, and defense lawyers maintained that the others did not know about the knife until after the fight.
What enabled prosecutors to charge all of them with murder is a legal provision known as the felony murder rule. It says a person can be found guilty of murder if they take part in another crime that leads to someone's death.
Micah Holland, who was 15 at the time, was sentenced to 25 years to life. Jason Holland, who was 18 at the time; Miliotti, then 17; and Hein, then 18, all received life sentences without possibility of parole. Supporters of the four defendants have continued to criticize the sentences and lobby for less prison time.
An extensive Web site, http://www.brandonhein.com, contains quotes assailing Hein's sentence from such luminaries as Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and talk-show host Geraldo Rivera.
The site also contains an online petition to Gov. Gray Davis asking him to review the case; as of Monday, it had 297 signatures.