SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown continues to set himself apart from past governors when it comes to giving criminals a second chance, telling the Legislature on Friday that he rejected only a small portion of the hundreds of convicted killers cleared last year for release from prison.
The report follows Brown's disclosure that he pardoned 128 people last year, mostly expunging the records of felons who had served their time.
The governor signed off on parole for 377 convicted killers who have been serving life sentences, according to numbers provided by his staff. That's 81% of those the parole board endorsed for release.
Brown approved a similar portion of parole grants the year before, in contrast to earlier governors, who rejected almost all release recommendations for murderers.
Among those to be freed — years from now — is Bert Cole, 43. In 1991, Cole was a member of the Graveyard Crips and killed a man he thought belonged to a rival gang.
Brown's letter approving Cole for release in 2017 notes that the inmate has worked toward a college degree and developed a business plan for a nonprofit agency to help troubled youths. His file contains a note from a Los Angeles prosecutor stating that Cole "impressed everybody in the room" at his last parole hearing.
The governor also OKd the 2016 parole of Lawrence Owens, 43, for his part in the 1993 murder of another man over a $20 drug debt and an insult to Owens' mother. Owens kicked and struck the man, but Brown's approval letter said it was Owens' "crime partner" who hit the victim with a slab of concrete, causing severe head trauma.
Brown's letter cites Owens' "exemplary behavior while incarcerated," including a single serious rule violation during 19 years in prison, earned credit toward a college degree and endorsements from a Muslim chaplain, Jewish rabbi and Contra Costa County prosecutor.
In his report to the Legislature, the governor said he blocked the release of 91 inmates because he believed they still posed a public safety threat. He sent two other cases back to the Board of Parole Hearings for review.
Administration officials said that while previous governors rejected parole for a far larger number of convicted killers, scores of those inmates were ultimately released after successfully appealing the rejections in court.
Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said the courts ordered the release of 106 of the 144 inmates who sued the state in 2011, challenging the rejection of their parole by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.