Tag Archive for: San Diego County District Attorney

DA Strongly Opposes Senate Bill 94

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today strongly criticized Senate Bill 94, proposed legislation that would allow a person convicted of murder or multiple murders with a special circumstance to petition a court for resentencing, if the killer has served at least 25 years of their life sentence and the offense was committed before June 5, 1990. The bill would permit some of the most violent and dangerous California murderers to elude the punishment of life without the possibility of parole for which they were originally sentenced. These violent killers would be eligible to be resentenced for their murders simply due to the passage of time.

“SB 94 would be an unwarranted gift of lenity to some of the ‘worst of the worst’ of California’s murderers currently incarcerated in prisons across the state, including San Diego defendants convicted of murder and attempted rape,” said DA Stephan, who sent a formal letter of opposition to the Chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. “For some of these killers, this law would reduce their sentence and move them from California’s prison system into our communities, unfairly re-traumatizing victims and their families. How is justice served when people who mercilessly torture and murder human beings and are duly convicted and sentenced in a court of law, and then get their sentence undone without any consideration of the irreplaceable loss and pain to their victims?”

In her letter, DA Stephan outlined several aspects to the bill that led to her opposition:

  • SB 94 includes no requirement that the killer show any remorse or rehabilitation.
  • SB 94 will re-traumatize victims and their families.
  • SB 94 fails to fully consider the appeals and other post-conviction relief available to convicted killers.
  • SB 94 tips the scale by forcing judges to lean towards resentencing in each case by requiring “great weight” be given to certain factors rather than allowing an objective decision.
  • SB 94 will unduly burden the court system by requiring judges to reconsider sentencing of decades-old cases.

The bill is making its way through the legislature and will be heard next in the Appropriations Committee tomorrow, September 1.

“The bill severely limits a sentencing judge’s discretion to deny the petition for resentencing,” DA Stephan said. “SB 94 stacks the deck in favor of violent murderers over victims and community safety by mandating that judges afford great weight to mitigating evidence offered by the convicted murderer. SB 94 is written so that the scales of justice are tipped in favor of the defendant.”

Mitigating evidence that benefits the defendant would be given greater weight than the aggravating evidence that negatively impacts the defendant’s petition for release. Specifically, SB 94 mandates that the resentencing court afford great weight to evidence that the convicted murderer suffered intimate partner violence, sexual violence or human trafficking; experienced childhood trauma, suffered military-related trauma connected to the offense, suffered cognitive impairment, intellectual disability or mental illness, or was a youth at the time of the offense.

The law does not allow great weight to be given to aggravating factors such as the calculated and cruel nature of the murder, the fact that two or more people were killed, that the victim left behind orphaned children, or that the murders were sadistic in their nature.

Killers convicted in San Diego County who would be eligible to petition for resentencing under SB 94 include:

David Alan Weeding – On May 20, 1988, Weeding knocked on the door of Vickie P.’s apartment, claiming to be sent by management to check for leaks. Weeding grabbed the victim’s arm and began to attack her. She was wrestled to the ground and the defendant held a knife to her throat, cutting off her clothes. As this was occurring, Vickie’s husband entered the apartment.  Weeding grabbed the knife from the floor and charged at him. Vickie ran outside for help while her husband struggled with Weeding. Weeding stabbed the victim in the back and chest several times, killing him. Weeding was convicted by a jury of murder with special circumstances, attempted rape and first-degree burglary. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Weeding committed this heinous murder after being released from prison early while serving a sentence for prior sexual assaults.

Arthur Chris Burbridge – On September 21, 1978, Claire L.’s body was found in a hotel room.  Her ankles were tied together with nylon stockings and there was blue bandana around her neck along with another nylon stocking. She had been choked to death. Claire’s checkbook was on the bed and in the signature line, the killer wrote, “God gives, God taketh away.” Six days later, Shirley B.’s body was found on the side of the road. A piece of plastic clothesline was tied around her neck. The cause of death was also asphyxiation. Shirley’s body had drag marks on her back indicating that she had been dragged headfirst to the side of the road where her body was covered with a blanket.

Read the DA’s letter sent in opposition to SB94 here.

DA Partners with Mexican Consulate to Provide Services at One Safe Place

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today the partnership between the Consul General of Mexico in San Diego and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for the Mexican Consulate to locate at the DA’s One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center and provide services. The partnership was solidified during the first anniversary celebration of the opening of One Safe Place in San Marcos, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

“This collaboration with the Mexican Consulate helps strengthen the bridge with the Latino community and will help enhance their trust in reporting and seeking help when victimized. We know from experience, that domestic violence and human trafficking victims are often threatened by their abusers with deportation which keeps them trapped in the cycle of violence,” said DA Stephan. “Together we can work to ensure that victims who seek services at One Safe Place, where the Mexican Consulate will now be an onsite partner, receive culturally sensitive help in their native language, that will focus on safety, justice and healing.”

[See video of signing ceremony here]

Since opening last summer, One Safe Place has served 2,845 individuals, provided legal services to 781 people, and received more than 6,800 calls to their helpline. One Safe Place provides support services all under one roof to anyone who has experienced child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crime, elder abuse, human trafficking, violent loss, family violence, or other abuse or victimization. This is all in collaboration with over 90 community organizations and agencies like the Mexican Consulate.

Together, the Mexican Consulate and One Safe Place have hosted events on wellness, have promoted first generation students with college connections and provided Consulate services at One Safe Place to meet the needs of our North County community and alleviate those with transportation barriers who are unable to travel to the Consulate main office in downtown San Diego. The MOU further creates opportunities for collaboration between the Mexican Consulate and One Safe Place in outreach and prevention work, including the Consulate’s participation in the free informative community events “Cafecito Con La Comunidad” that take place the second Friday of every month at One Safe Place.

“I am here today to send a clear message to our community: Victims should not remain silent when abused just because they fear deportation,” Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez said. “The Mexican Consulate in San Diego has an extensive reach into the immigrant community in the county and will continue to invite immigrants to raise their voice, as there is no reason why they must live with abuse.  We truly value our partnership with One Safe Place and hope, with their help via this MOU, to expand our reach of services and empower those victimized in our community.”

The signing ceremony of the MOU coincided with the one-year anniversary celebration of the opening of One Safe Place that featured a breakfast and program with community partners, including San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones, Carlsbad Police Chief Mickey Williams, Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso, CEO of Palomar Health Diane Hansen, among others.

One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center is located at 1050 Los Vallecitos Blvd., San Marcos, CA 92069. It is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 12 p.m.

Rapist Eligible for Elder Parole is Denied Release

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that convicted rapist Randal Gers, 60, has been denied parole by the Board of Parole Hearings. In 1995, Gers kidnapped two different women on two separate occasions. He held them both for hours, bound them, and repeatedly raped, sodomized, and sexually assaulted them. The inmate used a knife to gain control of the women, tied a rope or belt around their neck to control them, and even left one victim tied to a tree in a remote area overnight before returning to sexually assault her again. This defendant had a prior conviction for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old and bashing her over the head.

The defendant received a 567 years-to-life sentence for his crimes, which was the longest sentence ever handed down in San Diego County at the time. His eligible parole date was originally November 2378, however the California Legislature changed the law in 2021 to lower the age of qualification for the Elderly Parole Program to inmates 50 years old or older who have served at least 20 years of continuous incarceration. But for the change in the law, Gers would have never received a parole hearing.

The District Attorney’s Office Lifer Unit, led by Deputy District Attorney John Cross, worked diligently to oppose the release of this dangerous inmate, and located the two kidnap and rape victims to alert them to the parole hearing, as well as the change in the law that made parole a possibility for their rapist. The two courageous victims appeared in front of the Parole Board on Tuesday, giving powerful impact statements and the District Attorney’s Office vigorously argued against the inmate’s release. Ultimately, the Board denied Gers parole for five years.

“These were extremely brutal and horrific crimes deserving of the life in prison sentence the defendant received,” said DA Stephan. “It is hard to believe that a sexual predator with multiple victims is eligible for release under this new law, causing additional trauma to victims who had to overcome the damage of the violent crimes they endured and thought their tormenter had received a final justice and sentence. Instead, these and many more victims are being pulled back into the criminal justice system time and time again. Our prosecutors will never abandon our victims and we will stand with them at these parole hearings. We won this battle, but in five years, we will have to fight alongside them again. And we will.”

“The denial of parole is an excellent example of the work the DA’s Lifer Hearing Unit does to represent the voice of the crime victims. We’re increasingly seeing inmates being released under the Elderly Parole Program and when the facts and the law support us as in this case, we fight against these unsafe and unjust releases,” Stephan said.

In arguing against parole, Deputy District Attorney John Cross detailed Gers’ disturbing and violent crimes. He also told the Board that Gers had no understanding why he committed the brutal rapes and showed no remorse. The inmate has not completed any self-help programming while in prison and offered excuses as to why he had not.

The DA’s Lifer Hearing Unit was formed in 1995 to ensure that victims of violent crime are given a chance to be heard at these proceedings, and to help prevent inappropriate grants of parole. Since the passage of the elder parole law and many other laws that allow early release of violent offenders, the Unit’s workload has dramatically increased. The Unit prepares for about 50 parole hearings each month, approximately 600 a year, and handles about 300 full hearings.


Citizens of Courage 2023: Juan Fierro

After witnessing a DUI that ultimately left the victim in a wheelchair, he followed the hit-and-run driver and then alerted police to his location, leading to his arrest and conviction. Meet 2023 Citizen of Courage Juan Fierro, in this video.

Citizens of Courage 2023: Terri Miller

Working as a bus driver in North County, she stopped a man who was harassing a teenage girl on the bus, leading to his arrest, conviction and requirement that he register as a sex offender. Meet 2023 Citizen of Courage Terri Miller, in this video.

Citizens of Courage 2023: Carlos and Elizabeth Muñoz

After their innocent son became the victim of deadly gang violence, they started an organization where people affected by violence can get support. Meet 2023 Citizens of Courage Carlos and Elizabeth Muñoz, in this video.

Citizens of Courage 2023: Linda Martinez

She came to the aid of a man who was shot outside her home, providing life-saving medical attention, and calling police. Meet 2023 Citizen of Courage Linda Martinez, in this video.

DA Honors Local Heroes at Inspiring ‘Citizens of Courage’ Awards

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan honored five brave individuals on Monday, April 24, 2023 with the DA’s Citizens of Courage Award during the 33rd annual event, which is held as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

“These individuals all displayed courage in the face of dangerous and trying circumstances,” DA Stephan said. “By honoring them, we’re also shining a light on the many courageous crime victims our office serves in the pursuit of justice every year, and the importance of supporting victims’ rights – a big part of our mission at the District Attorney’s Office.”

This year, the Citizens of Courage Awards ceremony was held in person, after a three-year hiatus when the awards were held virtually. The five individuals were honored in front of 300 invited dignitaries, elected officials, community leaders and guests. Below are the 2023 Citizens of Courage recipients and links to videos telling their stories:


She came to the aid of a man who was shot outside her home, providing life-saving medical attention, and calling police.


After their innocent son became the victim of deadly gang violence, they started an organization where people affected by violence can get support.


Working as a bus driver in North County, she stopped a man who was harassing a teenage girl on the bus, leading to his arrest, conviction and requirement that he register as a sex offender.


After witnessing a DUI that ultimately left the victim in a wheelchair, he followed the hit-and-run driver and then alerted police to his location, leading to his arrest and conviction.

The DA’s Victim Services Division strives to reduce the trauma, fear and pain experienced by victims, witnesses, and family members affected by crime. The Victim Assistance Program provides comprehensive services to all crime victims. Victim Advocates are focused on providing assistance to victims of violent crimes. In 2022, they assisted 10,699 new crime victims. This assistance included 600 crisis interventions and 13,202 resources and referrals.


Man who Killed Twin Daughters of Ex-Girlfriend Sentenced to Life Without Parole + 72 Years

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that defendant Dwayne E. Groves Jr., 41, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus 72 years for murdering 15-year-old twin sisters, Caira and Leah Christopher, in April 2020. Groves pleaded guilty on March 10 to two counts of first-degree murder, a special circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders, and an assault with a firearm count.

On the day of the fatal shootings, Groves arrived at his ex-girlfriend’s home and used a semi-automatic handgun to shoot his way into the residence. Once inside, he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend’s twin 15-year-old daughters, Caira and Leah. He then beat her 22-year-old son, Gary, with the gun, causing multiple lacerations to his head and breaking his arm. Groves’ ex-girlfriend, Joann Hoyt, was able to escape the residence with her younger daughters. Groves fled the scene and tried to avoid arrest but was ultimately located and taken into custody that same day. Law enforcement located the gun on scene with its serial numbers scratched off.

“Anytime that a human being is murdered, there is a sense of deep loss and pain; however, when the lives of innocent children are stolen, we are left with a gaping wound,” DA Stephan said. “This was an unspeakable crime that took the lives of two innocent twin girls who were just beginning their lives. Nothing can make up for the devastation the defendant caused to the family of the victims, but I hope this sentence provides a measure of justice and healing.”

At the preliminary hearing, Joann Hoyt testified that Groves called her just before the incident, told her he had a plan and to trust him. Shortly after hanging up, the sliding glass door to her bedroom shattered and Groves came in holding a gun. He immediately went after Caira then proceeded through the house on his murderous rampage, killing Leah and attacking Gary. Before running out of the house Hoyt overheard Groves say, “You always wanted a story to write and now you have a book.”

Deputy District Attorney Meredith Pro prosecuted this case.

DA Files Criminal Charge in 101 Ash St. Case

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that former City of San Diego volunteer real estate advisor, Jason Hughes, 55, has been criminally charged with conflict of interest for his role in receiving millions of dollars in connection with two lease-to-own deals commonly known as Civic Center Plaza and 101 Ash Street. During a hearing on Thursday, Hughes pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of conflict-of-interest law, Government Code section 1090, and agree to pay $9.4 million in restitution to the City of San Diego, the amount he was secretly paid for the two transactions.


The plea agreement comes after Superior Court Judge, Kenneth So, who was presiding over the criminal investigation aspects of this case, in the last few days made the decision to move the case forward through mediation with all parties, including the City Attorney’s Office, aimed at a global resolution that would serve the interests of justice. Judge So’s expertise and knowledge of the case, stemming back to his authorization of the DA’s search warrants in October of 2021, allowed the case to move rapidly towards this decisive conclusion. Today’s San Diego City Council action clears the way for the criminal case to proceed under the judge’s direction, civil suits to be vacated and full criminal restitution to be paid.

“In many cases, conflict of interest cases result in only civil or administrative remedies,” DA Stephan said. “But in this egregious case, it was important to attain a measure of criminal liability and make certain that restitution be required via a criminal case and not left to chance in civil court. The message we are sending is clear: whether you are in an elected position, a public employee, a contractor, or an appointed volunteer, if you personally profit from contracts related to a government position, you will be held accountable for violating this public integrity law.”

The plea concludes an extensive criminal investigation by the District Attorney’s Office which included 1.6 terabytes of information and millions of pages of evidence. The intense scrutiny this case received will hopefully strengthen systems of checks and balances within the City of San Diego and other government entities and reinforce the importance of strict adherence to conflict-of-interest laws. The extensive work done by City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office in the civil litigation involving the same primary violation of conflict-of-interest laws as the criminal case— especially the content of the thorough depositions— provided significant support for the DA’s criminal investigation and prosecution.

“I want to thank the District Attorney team, led by our lead public integrity prosecutor, Leon Schorr, who invested so much time and expertise in this complicated case,” DA Stephan said. “In addition, members of local media outlets deserve recognition for their reporting, which helped reveal aspects of the case that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.”

In addition to Deputy District Attorney Schorr, the District Attorney team includes, Deputy District Attorneys Hector Jimenez, Martin Doyle, Fredrick Washington, and the many District Attorney Investigators who served search warrants and participated in the investigation. The DA team acknowledges the Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory whose extensive work on this complex investigation was critical, and the multitude of witnesses who sat for interviews, provided documentation and explained their involvement.