June 12, 2024

Sep. 8—The Yuba County Superior Court heard arguments for an evidentiary hearing on Friday regarding a possible resentencing for Leon Lampkin Jr., who played a role as an accessory to the robbery and murders of brothers Leoncio and Alejandro Jimenez in the 1990s.

According to the Yuba County District Attorney’s Office, Lampkin along with co-defendant Michael Owens attempted to rob the Jimenez brothers on March 18, 1998. A gun fight reportedly broke out during the robbery, which resulted in the brothers’ deaths and Owens being shot three times.

Owens was sentenced to serve four life terms plus 79 years, and maintained his innocence during sentencing, believing that there were other people “out there on the streets literally getting away with murder.”

A jury later determined that while Lampkin did not intentionally discharge a firearm during the crime, he was found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to serve 37 years plus two life terms.

After nearly 25 years, resentencing could be possible for Lampkin.

With the passing of Senate Bill 1437 in 2019, California’s felony murder rule was modified as it pertained to persons who did not directly commit a killing.

This change ensures that liability for murder is not imposed on someone unless they were the actual killer, acted with intent to kill or acted as a major participant in an underlying felony with reckless indifference to human life.

The California Legislature chose to make this change retroactive, which has reopened thousands of murder convictions, including Lampkin’s.

“We are now required to go back and try to determine if the evidence supports Lampkin’s murder convictions under the new definition. If the court finds that the evidence does not support conviction under the new definition of murder, the two murder convictions would be reversed and the life sentences would be vacated, leaving only the convictions for attempted robbery and burglary. Lampkin would be a free man,” Yuba County District Attorney Clint Curry previously said.

Friday’s hearing was dedicated to determining evidence that could be considered in Lampkin’s hearing for resentencing. Prosecution submitted preliminary testimony, original court transcripts, Lampkin’s records of arrest and prosecution, and new testimony from Owens.

Yuba County Judge Stephen Berrier determined that certain pieces of evidence including preliminary testimony and court transcripts would be admitted, but other factors such as Owens’ testimony have yet to be decided on.

Although he has previously maintained his innocence, Owens has applied for clemency and provided details about his and Lampkin’s actions during the robbery and murders as part of his application.

As noted by the DA’s Office, Owens — who was present during Friday’s hearing, but did not speak — indicated in a “statement of insight” that he had previously instructed Lampkin to “do all the talking” during the robbery because he was fluent in Spanish.

Owens also wrote that on the night of the incident, Lampkin walked into the kitchen with his gun trained on Alejandro Jimenez. When he tried to grab Lampkin’s shotgun, the victim had almost “complete control” of the gun. Lampkin reportedly pulled the trigger causing the shotgun to discharge into the ceiling, Owens claimed.

Curry previously said that his office intends to call Owens as a witness in this case to fill in details on how Lampkin played a role in the crime.

Brian Davis, a Yuba County public defender representing Lampkin, argued that Owens’ testimony directly contradicts the jury’s findings that Lampkin did not intentionally fire a gun during the robbery. Lampkin also addressed Berrier virtually via Zoom to argue that introducing Owens’ testimony seeks to retry a not guilty verdict.

Deputy District Attorney Caitlin Smith said that there have been no discussions yet regarding how Owens would testify beyond the events of the crime and what has been included in Owens’ request for clemency.

“The larger point is I have to determine whether or not what the jury found (Lampkin) of is sufficient to meet the standard of the law of being a major participant or being in reckless disregard of life, and whether the evidence in support of that finding establishes that finding. The jury found personal use. That’s what I’m to consider is whether the evidence is supportive of those findings,” Berrier said. “Mr. Owens did not testify in the original trial. If I hear from him now, he could strengthen the case immeasurable beyond what existed at the time of trial. … It could change the whole table here.”

Another hearing will be held for Lampkin at 9 a.m. on Sept. 29 at Yuba County Superior Court in Marysville.

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