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A Mother Rides A Rollercoaster Of Hope While Her Son Sits In Jail And More Local News

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Shawn Khalifa was sentenced to murder even though he was outside when his friends broke into a Riverside County home and killed a 77-year-old man. A new law could reduce his sentence — but that law is being challenged. Plus, the VA inspector general is criticizing the San Diego VA’s handling of suicide, and how the fear of a new rule might be impacting immigrant applications for public benefits.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 It's Friday, August 9th. I'm Deb Welsh and you're listening to San Diego news matters from KPBS coming up. San Diego has its own version of stony edge and California changed a rule that allowed courts to sentence people for murders they weren't directly involved in. And I said, felony murder. They told me right off the bat, you gotta not visit your son. So for us to just life in prison, that more San Diego news stories coming up right after the break.

Speaker 2: 00:31 Um,

Speaker 1: 00:33 thank you for joining us for San Diego News Matters. I'm Deb Welsh. San Diego has its own version of Stonehedge, but instead of ancient stones, the sun perfectly between the pillars of the script's pier. La Jolla KPBS reporter John Carroll says Wednesday night celestial event didn't quite turn out as hoped.

Speaker 3: 00:53 Here it's called script's hinge and it draws plenty of photographers who take to the beach under the pier, squeezing together lenses pointed to the West for that perfect shot. Scott Padgett drove down from Temecula.

Speaker 4: 01:06 This is special. This happens twice a year and only twice a year

Speaker 3: 01:10 as afternoon slid into evening. More and more shutterbugs arrived all waiting for the big moment. 7:42 PM to be exact. The moment the sun would be in the perfect position, but the marine layer had other plans. When the moment arrived, all you could see between the pillars were gray skies. Now the weight begins for the next opportunity that will happen next May, John Carroll KPBS news.

Speaker 1: 01:37 It's called felony murder, a law that allows people to be convicted of murders they were present for but did not actually commit. California changed the law this year, giving these prisoners a chance to get their sentences reduced, but now the law is being challenged in court by district attorneys including San Diego summer. Stephan KPBS, investigative reporter Claire Tresor tells us about one man ensnared by the law.

Speaker 4: 02:03 This was a, that was right. That's right. Before he was arrested. Coleen Kalifa has spread out photos of our son, Sean on the kitchen table. Her daughter Jennifer and grandson Jackson lean over the table to look. Jackson worth Uncle Sean at Tandy aid. Shawn Khalifa is in Donovan State Prison. He's 15 years into a sentence of 25 years to life for murder, but no one is claiming he killed anyone. When, when Sean was first arrested, I've called people you know, lawyers and I said, felony murder. They told me right off the bat, you've lost, you're going to visit your son. So the rest of his life in prison, he acted as lookout for two older teenagers when they robbed a house and killed the homeowner. Though Sean Khalifa had no idea they were going to kill the man and wasn't in the house when the murder took place. He was still convicted of felony murder.

Speaker 4: 03:05 This is because of a long established legal doctrine in California that allows prosecutors to file felony murder charges against suspects. Even if like Khalifa, they weren't directly involved in the killing, but late last year then governor Jerry Brown signed a law that allows prisoners in this position to apply for a lesser sentence. The khalifas now have hope, but they're still not sure Sean will be free. That's because district attorneys are challenging the new law in court and we've, it's been a huge roller coaster. I mean, we get our hopes up and we're letting you know, and the pain all comes back again because we're let down.

Speaker 5: 03:47 Yeah. And I've had some hope at different points for my incarceration.

Speaker 4: 03:51 This is Sean Khalifa on the phone from prison.

Speaker 5: 03:53 I have this newfound hope. It's, uh, it can be stressful,

Speaker 4: 03:57 stressful because he feels stuck in a permanent state of limbo. It's extraordinary to have this hope of getting out, but at the same time, that increases one's vulnerability tremendously. Alan Mobley runs project rebound, which helps people transition out of prison and earn college degrees. He considers the felony murder rule that put Khalifa away, a byproduct of the mass incarceration era. Many laws I'm draconian in nature, um, were brought into existence in response to both the politicalization and then also increased public concern. In recent years. The pendulum has swung the other way with national criminal justice reform and state rollbacks to things like three-strike sentencing. But these changes are often met with resistance. I've completely believe in safe reform. I just don't believe in unsafe reform that tramples over victims. Right? San Diego district attorney. Summer Stephan feels the changes to the felony murder rule go too far. Criminal justice reform has to weigh the constitutional rights of everybody, of victims, of offenders, of public safety. But some see juveniles with life sentences as victims, victims of a harsh system and of human brain development.

Speaker 6: 05:20 Yeah. Some adolescents are, um, likely to take risks.

Speaker 4: 05:25 Terry Jernigan runs the Center for human development at UC San Diego and leads a national study looking at adolescents brains,

Speaker 6: 05:34 young people during adolescents. Do you have a perfectly natural spike in their impulsive behaviors? And this does result in more mistakes in judgment.

Speaker 4: 05:44 And she says court sentences should take that into consideration, though she didn't know about Khalifa's particular case back at the Khalifa household, Coleen is ready for her son to come. I can't

Speaker 1: 05:58 believe that he's kept his integrity still intact. And his, his, uh, empathy and passion for others. Claire Tyga, Sir k PBS news. KPBS reached out to the family of the man who was killed and did not hear back in a matter of days. The government is expected to publish a new rule that would disqualify immigrants from legal residency if they've used various public benefits. KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Adler looks at how this proposed new rule might have already had an impact on immigrants decisions to apply for benefits

Speaker 7: 06:33 in San Diego County. The total number of people signed up for both food and health benefits has dropped over the past year. The number of all child recipients of CalFresh, which provides supplemental food benefits was down by almost 10% over a year ago. The number of undocumented children in Medi-Cal, which provides health coverage was also down by 8% Lillian Serrano, the chair of the San Diego immigrant rights consortium says that the proposed new rule has discouraged immigrant families from signing up for any public benefits.

Speaker 8: 07:05 Well, y'all are getting this question of should I enrolled, should I enroll? But at the end of the day, it's a personal decision whether we decide not to enroll

Speaker 7: 07:14 according to the latest draft of the rule, it would have no impact on immigrants who have already received a green card or other types of status. But Serrano says the fear of how this will be applied will continue to have a chilling effect. County officials have drawn new conclusions on whether enrollment's dropped because of the proposed new rule. Max [inaudible] k PBS news.

Speaker 1: 07:35 You may not have heard of him, but Jim bell was a much loved and respected member of the San Diego community, a man with visionary ideas who ran for mayor four times. Bell died a week ago at his home in ocean beach at the age of 77 KPBS reporter Ellison St John has this remembrance.

Speaker 9: 07:54 Jim Bell called himself an environmental designer at his head was full of common sense ideas that somehow seemed too crazy for a politician. He imagined how simple it would be for the San Diego Tijuana region to become self sustaining with renewable water, food and energy by, for example, covering a third of all roofs and parking lots with solar panels. He developed a prototype wastewater plant in TJ to convert sewage into irrigation water and compost. When I first interviewed him at his home in ob, he talked about building an offshore porcelain reef, made from toilets discarded for low flow systems. It had become an environmental asset and the wonderful place for snorkeling. He said, Jim's manifesto, a leaflet called consciousness and knowledge, achieving peace, prosperity in life, supporting sustainability. It was written for all inhabitants of spaceship earth. I'm sending this out because I care. He wrote, I believe that when enough of us care about the wellbeing of our descendants, it will be easy to create world peace and bring everything we do into prosperity in life, supporting system harmony. Jim Never won public office. He was unfailingly optimistic, compassionate, and though many

Speaker 1: 08:56 of his ideas didn't make it into the real world, this would certainly be a better place to live. Now if they had rest in peace. Jim Bell, Assemblyman Todd, Gloria, and now it's Thursday. He's one the backing of governor Gavin Newsom and his bid for San Diego. Mayor KPV as Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says it comes ahead of a candidate forum today.

Speaker 10: 09:17 Gloria already has a commanding lead in high profile endorsements. He also has support from former governor Jerry Brown and many state legislators. His main opponents, city council woman, Barbara Bree is backed mostly by community activists, but the two Democrats are still waiting for one powerful endorsement that of the San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez Kennedy says the party will make its choice later this month. We have an infrastructure backlog, we have a homelessness crisis. We have a problem with our rents and the PR and the the PR, the cost of rent, and we need a bold leader in order to take on those issues. No major republicans or independents have entered the mayor's race. Social Justice activist, Tasha Williamson will join Gloria and Bri for the Friday night forum at San Diego City College. Andrew Bowen, KPBS PBS news.

Speaker 1: 10:05 Alvin Schwartz is scary stories to tell in the dark books. Traumatized and delighted a generation of kids in the 1980s and nineties now the books come to the screen. KPBS cinema junkie. Beth like Amando has this review.

Speaker 11: 10:19 What's that? To Book of scary stories. Now it's a film produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Andre over a doll. The film set in 1968 with the scary prospect of Richard Nixon becoming president as the Vietnam War rages on young Stellis deal's a book from the local haunted house and suddenly kids start disappearing. Of course, the authorities say no connection. Sarah

Speaker 12: 10:42 bellows, his book, when the stories write themselves and it all comes alive. Who came up with all the six stuff

Speaker 11: 10:50 that would be author Alvin Schwartz and illustrator Steven Gamble. The American Library Association listed the books as the most challenged of the 1990s for their disturbing tone and deliciously creepy illustrations. It scared kids, but they loved it. The film faithful to the look of the drawings and creates great monsters. Where fails is in the script. You don't read the book, the book reads you. This idea would be more effective if the characters had more emotional depth for us to read so that the horrors they meet could be more intense in the end. It's a fun well acted horror ride aimed at younger audiences, but with the talent involved, I was expecting something more impressive about like a Mondo KPBS news,

Speaker 1: 11:32 scary stories to tell them the dark. Just opened in theaters. The California public utilities commission regulates so many industries, energy, water, transportation and war that critics argue it should be broken up. The PUC is outgoing. President Michael Picker is open to that, but he believes the real problem is the commission's antiquated legalistic process based on the court system of the 1880s and the final part of his interview with capital public radio's been Adler picker argues that's what needs to change. This is the

Speaker 13: 12:04 biggest question. Do we all apply the same kind of really rigid and historic and difficult to understand process to some of these other more innovative technologies and new opportunities or more competitive. If in fact we're going to continue to do that, then maybe some of these should be dealt with elsewhere and that's what brought forth some of the proposals to shift some of the commission's regulatory responsibilities elsewhere. For example, Lyft and Uber over to the department of motor vehicles should something like that happen. Sounds great to me. Why hasn't it? Because it's gonna take legislative action to have DMV take it up and there was a bill before the legislature that would have done that and it stalled. Well, I think there are a lot of people who like the status quo. I think that there are a lot of people who liked the fact that the PUC is a convenient box to put things in.

Speaker 13: 13:00 When you say a lot of people, who do you mean by that? Do you mean specifically the the industries who are regulated by you, they feel either they have a leg up on competition or at least the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. When it comes to a regulatory body. I think that the industries we regulate have a love hate relationship with the PUC. They love the fact that we preempt local control. I think they love the fact that the rules that we sat in establishes a single statewide market for a lot of other decision makers. You know, it's nice to have somebody to order, for example, to do $1 billion worth of subsidies for behind the meter battery storage, but doesn't show up in state budget. And you can always point fingers at somebody else and say, well, they adopted those rates, not me. But you've been here for five years. You pledged reforms during your confirmation process at the state senate. But this unwieldy bureaucracy and the legalistics setup haven't changed.

Speaker 13: 13:58 You know what we all kind of liked Thomas Jefferson because he preached at government should be closest to the people. And some point we all decide that you gotta have some level of expertise and delegation and you kind of become a Madisonian. And then sooner or later somebody like you shows up and said, why aren't you more like Joe Stalin? Why don't you just force them to do it? Is that what I'm saying? I think it is. If you follow along the lines, why didn't you force utilities to keep their equipment safe, to protect life and loss of property in exchange for their ability to have a monopoly. So I should also tell the wind did. It shouldn't be so ferocious that we shouldn't have more fuels, that we shouldn't allow people to have electricity if they build homes in wildfire hazard areas where they're putting more people at more risk and actually extending the danger into areas that haven't been penetrated by wires and poles, so that carry electricity in the past. Should I tell the legislature that we're no longer going to follow their rules for actually how we make decisions, nor should di obey their rules about how they set the numbers of staff people we have to go out and do inspections. I, you know, I've, I frankly would like to do some of those things, but I'm trying to be as effective a president I can within the expectations that will be accountable to democracy both internally and externally.

Speaker 1: 15:27 Outgoing California Public Utilities Commission, President Michael Picker speaking with capital public radio's been Adler. Thanks for listening to San Diego News matters. If you're not already a subscriber, take a minute to become one. You can find San Diego news matters on apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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San Diego News Matters

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.