Commutation Petition of Donald James Bohana by Christmas of This Year
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By Rev. Anthony Evans:
Washington DC – The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a coalition of 34,000 churches representing 15.7 million African-Americans, along with an additional 116,000 Black Churches, loudly and forcefully, with all of our collective moral authority, is humbly asking Gov. Edmund G. Brown to approve the Application for Commutation of Donald James Bohana. He has suffered enough. Mr. Bohana is 82 and has served well beyond his minimum term of 20 years. 150,000 Black Churches strongly believe on ethical and moral grounds that Mr. Bohana should be released by Christmas 2018.
Mr. Bohana’s application for release presents disturbing facts concerning the prosecution of his case, which sharply undermines any confidence in the integrity of his conviction. NBCI believes there has been a miscarriage of justice in this case. However, even if Gov. Brown does not agree, Mr. Bohana has clearly served his time and should be released out of basic humanity.
The Most Right Rev. Anthony Evans has personally invested in the case of Mr. Bohana’s outcome. “There are many things in life I feel that the Church should speak with the power that God Almighty has to grant it,” he said. “Injustice is at the top of that list. Mr. Bohana has been treated unjustly, and the Black Church is committed to using its moral authority to correct the injustice.
“We urge everyone to read Attorney Thomas V. Girardi’s remarkable letter to Gov. Brown in September 2018 and the Application for Commutation of Sentence, which outlines the strongest arguments citing all the contradictions in the case against Mr. Bohana. Why was this man ever convicted? The evidence is just not there.
“I also appeal to all members of the Jackson family to join with us to ask for the release of Mr. Bohana, to seek forgiveness of the matter and to move forward with your lives.”
In addition to its plea to Governor Brown to commute Mr. Bohana’s sentence, NBCI strongly urges the Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to look closely at all the facts which have been presented to her Conviction Review Unit and to take immediate steps to set aside Mr. Bohana’s 1998 conviction. The Church realizes that no one is perfect and people sometimes they make mistakes based off of insufficient information – and that includes the many hard-working women and men in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
Thomas J. Nolan of Latham & Watkins LLP, who is handling Mr. Bohana’s matter on a pro bono basis, has devoted hundreds of hours collecting previously-unknown facts, which he has supplied to the LA County DA’s Conviction Review Unit. Mr. Bohana has spent the better part of his adult life suffering because of mistakes made in his conviction and continued incarceration. There are simply far too many inaccuracies in this case. The Church pleads with the Office of the District Attorney to make this right, set aside Mr. Bohana’s conviction and, with mercy, release him forthwith immediately.
Below is an important portion of the summary of arguments assembled by Mr. Nolan:
Mr. Bohana has been incarcerated in the California Men's Colony-West Facility since he was sentenced on November 23, 1998. He is now eighty-two years old and has served almost twenty years in prison - ten years more than his minimum eligible parole date of July 1, 2008. As explained in the Application, however, each time that Mr. Bohana has appeared before the Parole Board, parole has been denied, primarily due to the fact that Mr. Bohana has steadfastly maintained his innocence and refused to adopt alternative account of the events leading to the tragic drowning of Ms. Jackson - notwithstanding the contrary testimony of numerous qualified experts at Mr. Bohana's evidentiary hearing. Moreover, numerous members of the famous Jackson family appeared at each of these hearings to contest his release, perpetuating the celebrity-fueled nature of Mr. Bohana's conviction and continued incarceration.
The California Court of Appeal, however, has made clear that where (as here) a prisoner has consistently maintained his innocence, neither the Parole Board nor the Governor should deny parole on that basis. See In re Perez, 7 Cal. App. 5th 65, 89-90 (2016) (cited in the Application, at pp. 5-6 & n.5) ("Indeed, such an improper use of an inmate's claim of innocence to deny parole could lead to the anomalous result of an inmate who is, in fact, innocent never being released from prison unless he or she is willing to falsely admit to committing the life crime.") (emphasis in original)
Notably, prior to his trial, Mr. Bohana took and passed a lie detector test - a fact, which was not presented to the grand jury or presented to the jury at trial. He has also requested on three separate occasions that he be allowed to take a lie detector test and present the results to the Parole Board, but his requests to both the District Attorney's office and to prison officials have been denied each time.
Moreover, I would respectfully direct you to the heartfelt letter from Mr. Bohana (attached hereto at Attachment L), in which Mr. Bohana does, in fact, take responsibility for the tragic events of that August 1994 evening, and explains that he has worked hard to improve himself while in prison, including addressing any issues with alcohol abuse.
Finally, I would like to speak briefly regarding Mr. Bohana's health and character. Mr. Bohana is eighty-two years old. He suffered a stroke in 2010, from which he has been slowly recovering. Mr. Bohana is right-handed, but as a result of the stroke, he has residual weakness on his right side and no longer has the use of his right hand. Mr. Bohana has been designated as a High Risk Medical Prisoner.
While incarcerated, Mr. Bohana has consistently worked to improve himself. He has participated in educational activities, worked various jobs, and undertaken self-help courses - including, in particular, Alcoholics Anonymous. Mr. Bohana has been sober for almost twenty years, and he has had no write-ups related to alcohol or illicit substances while he has been incarcerated. Indeed, Mr. Bohana has an almost spotless disciplinary record. He has received no write-ups since 2014, and the write-ups that he previously received were minor (e.g., for using a restroom in the incorrect location). Mr. Bohana has never been disciplined for violent or aggressive behavior while incarcerated. To the contrary, Mr. Bohana has been a model prisoner and has received numerous positive write-ups ("chronos") from prison guards acknowledging that Mr. Bohana has assisted a number of fellow inmates in their successful preparation to take their GED exams.
For these reasons, and the reasons set forth in the pending Application for Commutation of Sentence, we respectfully urge you to grant Mr. Bohana's request for clemency. Further, I implore you to order Mr. Bohana's immediate release rather than forcing him to wait for another Parole Board. I understand that Mr. Bohana's recent request to accelerate his parole hearing (in the wake of the information uncovered in the "20/20" report) was recently denied and, as a result, he will have to wait several years for the next hearing - at which he may simply receive the same result, as the celebrity nature of the tragic drowning of Ms. Jackson still haunts this case.