In an unusual action, former Santa Barbara County Sheriff James Thomas intervened on behalf of a convicted killer and helped persuade a judge Tuesday to send him to a juvenile facility rather than state prison.
Thomas, in a letter to Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge William L. Gordon, said he was a close friend of the father of the defendant, Graham Pressley, 19, who was 17 when he dug the grave for a boy slain in a bid to collect on a drug debt.
"I am not as assured that he would survive in an adult state facility," Thomas wrote.
Pressley was tried as an adult and convicted of second-degree murder last year in the August 2000 kidnapping and slaying of Nicholas Markowitz, 15, of West Hills. Prosecutors asked that he be sentenced to the mandatory 18 years to life in prison for the killing and a gun allegation.
But his attorney, C. Michael Ganschow, argued that Pressley should be released from jail on probation. He said the defendant's youth and lack of criminal record made him a good prospect for release.
Gordon ordered the Goleta man to spend the next five years and two months, until his 25th birthday, in a California Youth Authority facility.
"I do not believe that justice would be fully served by losing another young man in this tragedy," Thomas wrote.