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The day Sandra Redmond shot and killed her 58-year-old boyfriend, he had allegedly raped her. While Redmond, then 22, was allowed to testify in detail about the abuse at her murder trial, there was plenty she couldn’t tell the jury. The court did not permit her to tell jurors that her boyfriend Arthur Moore’s threatening manner reminded her of the uncle who raped her when she was a child, or that her mother was continually abused by partners while Redmond was growing up. She did not get the opportunity to talk about the time her former husband locked her in a closet because he was angry. For years, courts in California did not allow expert testimony on abuse or inclusion of an abusive history in testimony, resulting in first-degree murder convictions and lengthy sentences for some abused women, said Carrie Hempel, co-director of the Post-Conviction Justice Program clinic at the University of Southern California Law School. But some of those women and several men covered by the law now walk free, due to a 2002 California law and a 2004 amendment, which allow inmates to reopen cases if they can show that expert testimony on the effects of battering may have changed the outcome. In April, Hudie Joyce Walker, 65, who shot her husband on Mother’s Day in 1990, became the first person in a published case to make use of this law. Walker was released on a lesser charge without any parole. In re Hudie Joyce Walker, 147 Cal. App. 4th 533. A 14-YEAR QUEST Most women in these situations are not fully aware of the changes in laws or how to navigate them, Hempel said. For the past 14 years, Hempel and co-director Michael Brennan have trained law students to work with the USC clinic and four other nonprofit organizations under the umbrella of The California Habeas Project to find women in prison who could have benefited at their original trials from expert testimony on battering and its effects. The Post-Conviction Justice Project represents some of these individuals and also recruits and trains pro bono legal teams from law firms such as Latham & Watkins and New York-based Proskauer Rose. Marissa Gonda, who participated in the Post-Conviction Justice Project for four semesters and graduated from USC in May, said the clinic deals with parole hearings as well as habeas petitions. “I think it’s hard to imagine a time when battering wasn’t talked about,” she said. “There’s been a huge jump socially in the past 20 or 30 years about what is acceptable to talk about. Those things played huge roles in trials. There’s evidence that this type of expert testimony can make a huge difference in the commitment offense.”
‘Most women in these situations are not fully aware of the changes in laws or how to navigate them.’

Carrie Hempel

Gonda worked with Redmond to write a habeas corpus petition, asking the district attorney to consider Redmond’s history of suffering abuse, along with the evidence presented at her original trial. Redmond was freed on a three-year parole and her charge was reduced to voluntary manslaughter on June 14. “It’s amazing to just be getting out of law school and get someone who deserves to be out of prison out of prison,” Gonda said. Beth Collins-Burgard, an associate at Latham & Watkins, gathered expert testimony and wrote a petition describing Walker’s history of suffering abuse to help Walker plead out on a charge of manslaughter on May 29. Hempel said the clinic has helped release on parole 15 clients in the past 10 years. Prior to the 1980s, abused women who argued “heat of passion” or self-defense at trials were not given different consideration than a man, said Nancy Kaser-Boyd, a forensic psychologist and socio-clinical professor at UCLA. “But juries couldn’t understand why women would stay in abusive relationships or that women might view things differently than men,” Kaser-Boyd said. “People thought some women just like to be beat up.” THE PRE-1992 CONUNDRUM In 1992, California allowed expert testimony on Battered Women’s Syndrome, now referred to as “intimate partner battering and its effects,” to be presented in criminal cases (Evidence Code 1107). However, this law did not apply to crimes committed before the law took effect. Women convicted of violent crimes against abusive partners before 1992 “didn’t have another bite at the apple,” Collins-Burgard said. In 2002, California Penal Code 1473.5 was implemented, allowing opportunities for assistance for women incarcerated for murder prior to 1992. The law did not provide relief for women who had killed after that time because the state believed that Evidence Code 1107 provided a sufficient defense in preventing abused women from wrongful conviction, Hempel said. This was not the case, as correct application of the still-new law took years, Kaser-Boyd said. To remedy that situation, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2004 signed into law a bill sponsored by Democratic state Sen. John Burton, SB 1385, that amended sections 1107 and 1473.5. The amended law allows an incarcerated woman who committed any violent felony before Aug. 29, 1996, who did not have expert testimony at her trial, to file a habeas petition to challenge her conviction in court. Petitions, however, may be filed only until 2010. The new law also complies with a 1996 California Supreme Court decision that recognized the validity of expert testimony on battering and its effects. People v. Humphrey, 13 Cal. 4th 1073. Stacey Laskin is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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