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Change In Felony Murder Law Means Freedom For San Diego Man And Other Local News

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Speaker 1: 00:00 It's Wednesday, February 26th. I'm Deb Welsh. And you're listening to San Diego news matters from KPBS coming up. A change in the felony murder law means freedom for a San Diego man and to San Diego judicial candidates. Facebook shares raise questions about what kind of lawyer should run for the bench.

Speaker 2: 00:18 When someone walks into a judge's courtroom, they want to know that the judge has not prejudged them or prejudged the issue they're bringing before the court.

Speaker 1: 00:28 That more coming up right after the break, fewer people from China are coming to California, says the start of the coronavirus. Jocko Connell is a Sacramento based international trade advisor with beacon economies. He says there's been a virtual suspension of tourism and business travel

Speaker 3: 00:51 California in uh, you know, the last year saw a couple of million Chinese visitors, uh, who all spend a good deal more on a per capita basis and visitors from Europe. So this is a substantial hit.

Speaker 1: 01:06 Meanwhile, the rapidly spreading virus is also causing jitters in the stock market. Monday saw the market's biggest drop in more than two years. San Diego County is one step closer to finishing a plan to address homelessness in the unincorporated areas with the first ever County run shelter. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman explains

Speaker 4: 01:27 last month the County beefed up its hotel motel voucher program, which gives people a temporary place to stay. So far it has helped 56 people get off the streets, but after the the hotel voucher runs out, then what supervisor Jim Desmond says, it's simple. Part of the missing link here in in homelessness is that interim housing. That means for the first time the County is looking to build a homeless shelter. The city of San Diego has invested millions in temporary 10 shelters to house the homeless. On Tuesday County staff identified 15 properties that could be used to build housing or shelters. Six of those are in spring Valley, two are in Lake site and seven are in Fallbrook. Desmond says the hard part is finding a site that works for communities.

Speaker 2: 02:07 I think everybody gets the need. Nobody wants it next to them and so that's the challenge that we have to face.

Speaker 4: 02:13 County staff plan to return to the board in 60 days with an update on progress. Matt Hoffman, K PBS news

Speaker 1: 02:19 after a ruling by the Supreme court last week, a new set of Trump administration rules that could have a far ranging impact on San Diego's immigrant population has now taken effect. KPBS reporter max Willan Adler tells us more

Speaker 4: 02:34 changes to the country's public charge rule, which was first proposed in 2018 will make it harder for poor immigrants in America to become legal residents if they rely on safety net programs like subsidized healthcare and food benefits. News of the rule may have already had an impact on enrollment and social services in San Diego County. The San Diego County health and human services agency says enrollment and Medi-Cal is down more than 11 among undocumented children. Since a year ago almost. I need an attorney at the California immigrant policy center told KPBS that the potential impact on the state will be far reaching as immigrants drop out of the program and California faces a loss in federal funding because of it. That lost in federal funding might might mean a loss in jobs. It might mean a loss, an economic output, and certainly it means lower health outcomes and people's lives at stake. The number of child recipients in CalFresh, which provides food assistance has also dropped 10% over the past year. The County says it cannot prove the decreased enrollment is caused by the public charge rule max with Lynn Adler, K PBS news.

Speaker 1: 03:37 You can't see it smell or taste it, but lead in drinking water can be toxic, especially to children. The San Diego unified school district now has a way to deal with this growing concern. KPBS has Meyer troubles. He has more led is a dangerous neurotoxin, particularly in children as it builds up in the blood over time, higher than normal levels can lead to physical and mental developmental problems. At clay elementary today, the San Diego unified school district showed off its proposed solution to the problem filtered water hydration systems installed in all the district schools. Laura D Han with California public interest research group. Cal perg urges schools throughout California. To follow this model,

Speaker 5: 04:20 it is possible to get the lead out and to protect children from this preventable public health threat. We urge the board of education to adopt the plan.

Speaker 1: 04:31 Led problems usually start with corrosion in older pipes dislodged over time entering the water system. The school district has been aggressively dealing with the issue of lead and drinking fountains since 2017 testing over 2,500 water samples. If adopted at tonight's board of education meeting, the system would hold the highest standard in the state. Maya treble, C K KPBS news. The California legislature is weighing up proposal that would allow people to become one with the earth after dying. CAPP radio Scott rod explains

Speaker 6: 05:03 death is not an option in this caper called life, but what happens to your body afterward? Well, there are options for that. Burial and cremation are popular choices for a pretty penny. You can even have your remains shot into space now. California lawmakers are considering a new option. Composting the process involves putting the body into a vessel that slowly converts the remains into dirt. Washington state legalized the practice last year. Democratic assembly woman, Christina Garcia, who authored the bill says it's more environmentally friendly than the alternatives. Not only that, it produces a nutrient rich soil that can be donated to conservation land or used by family members. If passed, the law could give a whole new meaning to successive sowing in Sacramento. I'm Scott rod,

Speaker 1: 05:51 a man who'd been in prison for 16 years is now free and figuring out what to do. He'd been sentenced out of the States felony murder rule, which says people can be convicted of murders they were present for, but didn't actually commit. That law changed last year and now KPBS investigative reporter Claire Tresor has an update on his story. Sean Khalifa wanders the campus at San Diego state university taking in the crowds of students rushing to class.

Speaker 7: 06:22 Yeah, no, I went to the library earlier. I loved it.

Speaker 1: 06:25 College is one of the many things Khalifa missed. He went to prison at age 15 and is now 31 he's touring SDSU with the hopes of enrolling as a student in a few years.

Speaker 7: 06:37 That's Khalifa. Heaven is a library.

Speaker 1: 06:38 His life took a dark turn when as a teenager in Riverside County. He participated in a home invasion. He acted as lookout while two of his friends savagely beat the homeowner. Hubert love to death. Khalifa says the plan was to Rob him, but he had no idea they would kill him, but he was still convicted under California's felony murder rule, which allows the defendant to be charged with murder for a killing that happened during a dangerous felony, even if the defendant is not the killer. But then last year, new hope, a new law removed much of the felony murder rule and allowed prisoners like Khalifa to apply for a lesser sentence. District attorneys in the state, including San Diego, da summer. Stephan challenged the law change, but this week the California Supreme court rejected their challenge. That means there's no question. Khalifa will remain free.

Speaker 7: 07:36 I started letting it sink in and letting go and starting to embrace the fact that I was going home and it wasn't going to be stopped this time

Speaker 1: 07:42 he sat down with KPBS to talk about his journey.

Speaker 7: 07:45 You could just feel the stress like melt off of you when you kind of know you're going home. And so just thinking as possible, have you spoken to the victims family at all? I have not. Um, it would be nice to like make living amends and, and have dialogue with them in the future. But I understand currently my release is not something that they're excited about or happy. They're probably worried and they're going through a lot of stress themselves. So I think the best thing is just, um, time. What would you want to say to them? I would just want to let them know that, um, um, personally it was a tragedy in my life as well. Then that's her love lost his life and it's something I have to live with forever. Just knowing that I was, I was there like I showed up and that I didn't get them help that day. That's something I live with the rest of my life and I'll spend the rest of my life making living amends for that.

Speaker 1: 08:37 So you've been in prison for more than 15 years. 16 exactly. A couple of days over. Are you worried about fitting back into normal life?

Speaker 7: 08:47 What's so exciting is that, um, when I came back out it felt like I'd never left cause I've always been goofy. I've always liked to make people laugh. I've always been, but before I was a criminal, so I thought like a criminal and I had all these criminal, uh, attributes like stealing and lying. But now to be out here and to be able to make people laugh but have these humble experience that I've gotten, like while in prison, all the groups I'd taken, like all the work I've done on myself to come out here and now exhibit humbleness, kindness, compassion, helping strangers. Like I just love it. I'm like super excited. I'm fitting right into society. Are there things that you want to say? There's a guy named Joshua Nichols who was a former life where I was, I was hanging out with the other day. He said, it's called survivor's guilt, where you feel bad for the guys you left behind. So that's just one thing I want to share that there's still guys in there that don't need to be incarcerated. So hopefully that's what restorative justice does eventually.

Speaker 1: 09:43 Sean Khalifa's mom. Coleen Khalifa is thrilled to have her son home. She says she doesn't worry about him reintegrating into society at all.

Speaker 8: 09:52 When I see that look of happiness and joy on his face and I know who he is and his strong character, I just, I can't work. I can't worry about it cause I know he's going to be fine.

Speaker 1: 10:08 Claire Trigere, sir KPBS news, news of San Diego, superior court, judicial candidate. Sean McMillan's, Facebook posts has created an uproar. Among other things. They're racially charged carry anti-immigrant themes and ridicule gender identity. Realistically, it's a mechanical issue. How many genders are there? McMillen told KPBS last week that had he known he was running for judge, he likely wouldn't have shared the posts. So I might've been like all the other candidates and kept all my views secret hidden from everybody. So you're all guessing what I really think. KPBS is a myth. A Sharma recently spoke to California Western school of laws. Professor Ameritus, Jan Stiglitz about Macmillan and judicial races,

Speaker 8: 10:52 San Diego superior court, judicial candidate. Sean McMillan has shared controversial posts on his Facebook page. One advocates arming all Americans and other States. President Trump replaced a racist president referring to former president Barack Obama. So another suggests stopping welfare to illegal immigrants as a way to get them to deport themselves. And one shows pictures of Monica Lewinsky, former NFL player Colin Kaepernick and U S Senator Kamala Harris, along with the caption, when nobody knew who you were until you got on your knees. Political candidates make incendiary comments all the time. But what about judicial candidates? Should they?

Speaker 2: 11:36 No, except that it gives you a window into who they are and actually exposes why they are unqualified to be on the bench. What you need in a politician, an elected representative, is a point of view. Isn't agenda is a plan for policy change? You don't want that in a judge. A judge is supposed to be neutral. A judge is not supposed to be prejudice. A judge is supposed to have an open mind and treat people with respect. And when someone walks into a judge's courtroom, they want to know that the judge has not prejudged them or prejudged the issue they're bringing before the court. So when you have a candidate like this who makes a comment about there are only two genders who may never have had a case involving gender discrimination and seeing research and science on it, that charge is not perceived as coming in with an open mind and we want judges to be both fair and perceived as fair.

Speaker 2: 12:49 The San Diego County bar association judged McMillan to be lacking qualifications, but it didn't say why should they have it would have been helpful because we don't know whether like me, they found among qualified because he seems to have prejudged very serious issues and wouldn't be fair and respectful of everyone who came before him. It could also be for other reasons, like he lacked a legal background, like he may have taken actions as a lawyer that suggest he is not the kind of person who you want on the bench and we don't know. So it would have been helpful to know where do you stand on the issue of judicial elections? Should superior court judges be appointed or should they run? I much prefer the appointment system. I know every election time they get calls from friends. Do you know any of these judges? Who do you think I should vote for?

Speaker 2: 13:45 I've been involved in the San Diego legal community for 40 years and half the time I don't know all of these judges. I do know that when the governor is ready to point someone, there's a very intensive vetting process and a commission set up to seek input and give a good evaluation of prospective judges. So I actually trust gubernatorial appointments more than I do the election process. Most people don't pay very much attention to these judicial races. But how important are judges to people's lives? Oh, they're extremely important. If you believe that your rights have been violated, whether it's a merchant who has cheated you, whether you've suffered a severe accident, whether there's been discrimination in the workplace, you want to know that there's a judicial system that will give you a fair opportunity to be heard. And the higher up you go in the court system, the more important it is to have good judges.

Speaker 1: 14:43 KPBS is a Meetha Sharma spoke to California Western school of laws. Professor Ameritus, Jan Stiglitz,

Speaker 9: 14:57 that's it for San Diego news matters today. Consider supporting this podcast by becoming a KPBS member today. Just go to kpbs.org/membership.

One man has hope for a normal future after once been convicted of felony murder. Plus, the Trump administration's new 'public charge' rule may already affect who will apply for government services. And hydration stations at San Diego public schools try to ‘get the lead out’ of the water supply.

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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.