Activists want to remove California judge over abuse case sentence

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 09, 2015 7:49 PM

By Tori Richards

SANTA ANA, Calif. (Reuters) - Activists including O.J. Simpson's former sister-in-law launched a bid on Thursday to recall a California judge over what they say was an unconscionably light sentence he gave to a man convicted of sexually abusing a 3-year-old girl.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Marc Kelly has been roundly criticized for sentencing Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto last week to 10 years in prison when the state statute recommends a minimum of 25 years to life behind bars.

Rojano-Nieto was convicted in December of sodomizing his half-sister in the family’s Santa Ana garage after the girl wandered in while he was playing video games.

Kelly, in imposing the lesser sentence, said the case was "not typical of a predatory, violent, brutal sodomy of a child case" because the defendant did not seek out his victim.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has said he would appeal that sentence.

In demanding Kelly's recall, the activists, joined by three members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said the judge's ruling was inappropriate and could be used by other defendants to seek lighter sentences.

"These are monsters and they deserve the maximum sentence,” said Denise Brown, whose sister, Nicole Brown-Simpson, was stabbed to death on June 12, 1994, along with her friend Ronald Goldman.

Former football star turned TV pitchman O.J. Simpson was charged with those murders but ultimately acquitted during a sensational case that came to be known as the "Trial of the Century."

Kelly has been a judge since 2000. Before that, he spent 12 years as a deputy district attorney and prosecuted hard-core gang cases. Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is part of the recall effort, was a prosecutor at the same time and knows Kelly well.

“I’m shocked that this is Marc,” Spitzer said. “He knew exactly what he was doing and his comments were unfathomable.”

Kelly could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

An attorney for Rojano-Nieto, Erfan Puthawala, said the sentence was appropriate because his client had been abused himself as a child and a 25-years-to-life term would be cruel and unusual punishment.

“Sometimes the right decision can be an unpopular decision,” Puthawala said. “In this case, it takes a lot of courage to follow the law even though he knew there would be some sort of a backlash.”

(Reporting by Tori Richards in Santa Ana. Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Andre Grenon)