California Gov. Gavin Newsom has overruled a state parole board decision to release a man who killed a minister and shot a deputy after they found him drunk and drove him home in 1994.
Derek Eugene Pettis was a 24-year-old gang member when he shot Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Terrence Wenger, 31, and volunteer chaplain Bruce Bryan, a 39-year-old in the car on a ride-along.
Pettis got into a bar fight that night, but rather than arrest him, Wenger decided to drive him home. Pettis thanked him by punching him in the face and stealing his gun as soon as he opened the door.
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“They took him home instead of taking him to jail, and that’s the hardest part to understand,” Bryan’s brother, Floyd Bryan, previously told Fox News Digital. “They dropped him off a block from where he lived, and when he got out he hit the deputy, grabbed his gun and shot him in the head.”
Pettis shot Wenger in the eye. He collapsed but survived. Pettis turned the gun on Bryan, who tried to run away.
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“He chased my brother, shot him in the back,” Floyd Bryan said. “He had a vest on, so as he was on his knees trying to get up, he shot him again straight down between his shoulder there where there wasn’t a vest and killed him.”
California’s Board of Parole granted the 54-year-old Pettis “youthful offender” parole in September at a hearing that didn’t involve any prosecutors due to a standing order from District Attorney George Gascon, who has banned members of his office from arguing against releasing murderers.
Newsom, in his written decision, noted that while Pettis has gotten sober and kept out of trouble in prison, he has a long history of violence and substance abuse.
“When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time,” Newsom wrote. “Therefore, I reverse the decision to parole Mr. Pettis.”
Read the governor’s decision here:
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Under his sentence, Pettis shouldn’t have been eligible for another 11 years. But state laws have been revised, raising the age of “youth offender” status several times over the past few decades, from 18 to 23 and now 26.
Pettis was 24 at the time of the shooting, and the status has been applied retroactively, Floyd Bryan said.
The green light prompted outrage, with Gascon’s own deputies condemning the parole board as one of his challengers in the upcoming election, Nathan Hochman, penned a letter to Newsom urging the governor to overturn the decision.
“Pettis could have faced the death penalty — or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole — had Deputy Wenger died in the shooting, as many victims do when they are shot in the head,” he wrote. “To grant parole would be rewarding Pettis for the good fortune that the man he shot in the head happened to survive.”
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Wenger remained on the force for years until he retired.
According to a memorial plaque at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Carson Station, Bryan earned the nickname “Chaplain of the Hood” because he spent so much time counseling youthful offenders on the hood of a squad car.
“Chaplain Bruce was a full-time service volunteer doing the work of God,” the Carson Station said in a 2016 tribute to the slain minister. “He visited youthful offenders at juvenile detention facilities, opened his home to troubled men and participated in ride alongs several times a week.”
Bryan ran a nonprofit halfway house for troubled juveniles out of his home. He offered them jobs at a gardening business and helped them get back into school or find new careers. At the time of his murder, he was engaged to be married.
Pettis will have another chance to go before the parole board in 18 months – still well before his initial sentence would have made him eligible for parole.
Under California rules, the governor has final say over parole decisions. He has yet to make a decision on the pending release of San Francisco child killer Patrick Goodman, who beat his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son to death in 2000, leaving the child with dozens of traumatic injuries, including broken bones and “pulverized” organs.
Even though San Francisco prosecutors were present to argue against his release, the board decided he should go free.
Original article source: Gavin Newsom overrules California parole board that wanted to free gang member who murdered minister early