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Davis Denies Parole for Model Inmate Jailed 22 Years in Killing

October 19, 2002|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

Despite a flood of letters and petitions urging that he free her, Gov. Gray Davis on Friday denied parole to a model inmate who has served 22 years for masterminding a killing over a drug deal.

Davis sided with the Marin County district attorney, who argued that Jerilyn Becker's goal at the time of the murder was to obtain heroin, and that her craving for the drug was so great that it led to a fatal shooting in the presence of the victim's 7-year-old son.

Davis was unavailable for comment. But his spokesman, Byron Tucker, said, "The governor was concerned that should Miss Becker be released into society and revert back into a pattern of drug use, her violent temperament would lead to a public safety risk."

In any case, Davis rarely frees murderers. He has agreed to free only two killers deemed ready for release by his appointees on the state parole board, rejecting 141 others.

But few high-profile convicts have received the level of support that Becker, 52, has gotten in recent months.

Catholic nuns, college professors, retired bankers, 14 state legislators and the man who sentenced her to prison, retired Marin County Superior Court Judge E. Warren Mcguire, all have declared her successfully rehabilitated.

Over the last two decades, Becker has served as a peer counselor with drug and alcohol recovery groups, ministered to dying prisoners and earned exemplary reviews from her work supervisors.

Beyond that, her supporters point out that although a jury convicted her of first-degree murder, she did not fire the gunshot that killed the victim, Rickey Caponio.

"I think the governor's decision was a terrible shame," said Santa Barbara businessman Howard Schiffer, one of more than 1,000 Californians who wanted Becker released.

"This was a real opportunity to validate somebody's redemption and successful effort to turn their life around.

"It has everything to with the fact that the governor has aspirations to higher political office. The parole system is a sham and a political tool to appeal to moderate voters."

Tucker disagreed.

"This isn't a matter of public support," he said. "This is about a horrible, premeditated crime, and although Miss Becker has made commendable gains in prison, the governor believes she could pose a public safety risk if released from prison."

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