A Fresno man initially sentenced to life in prison without parole was resentenced Thursday to 80 years to life in prison in connection with the 2006 killing of a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
Jose Angel Perez accepted his new punishment in Fresno County Superior Court, hoping that an appellate court will reduce his sentence under a new California law that gives youthful offenders a chance at parole after serving 25 years in prison, said Fresno defense attorney Peter Jones, who represents Perez.
Nath Ouch was 20 years old and eight months pregnant when she was gunned down outside an apartment complex near Tulare and Peach avenues in southeast Fresno during the early hours of Feb. 1, 2006. Prosecutors say Ouch was an innocent victim caught in a gang war between the Tiny Rascal Gang and the Asian Boyz.
Perez, now 31, was one of two Asian Boyz gang members who fired guns multiple times, but his bullets did not kill Ouch or her unborn child known as Baby Ouch, court records say.
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In 2014, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole because jurors found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.
But in April this year, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno reversed Perez’s conviction, saying trial Judge Wayne Ellison misstated the law to the jury that convicted him.
In April this year, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno reversed Jose Angel Perez’s conviction, saying the trial judge misstated the law to the jury that convicted him.
Perez was convicted under the legal theory of aiding and abetting. The appellate ruling says Ellison told the jury that “an aider and abettor need not act willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation in order to be guilty of first-degree premeditated murder so long as the actual killer behaved with such intentions.”
The appellate justices said Ellison’s jury instruction “was antithetical to the California Supreme Court’s holding in People v. Chiu, which in general says an aider and abetter must also act willfully, deliberately and with premeditation to be found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder.”
In tossing Perez’s conviction, the justices noted that the state Attorney’s General Office, which represents the prosecution in appeals, conceded this fact. The justices gave the prosecution two options: retry Perez or allow him to plead guilty to second-degree murder and sentence him.
On Thursday, prosecutor Jeff Dupras made a legal motion to reduce Perez’s conviction to two counts of second-degree murder. Judge James Kelley then sentenced Perez to 30 years for the two murders plus 50 years for using a gun.
Afterward, Jones said it was a tactical decision to accept the second-degree murder conviction because Perez’s appellate lawyers believe he will benefit from Senate Bill 261, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October and makes more than 12,000 youthful offenders in California eligible for early parole hearing.
If the prosecution had opted for a new trial, Perez could have been convicted of first-degree murder again and received another sentence of life in prison without parole, Jones said. But a new trial would have required prosecutors to find witnesses who have been reluctant to testify, have left Fresno or are in prison, he said.
In 2014, California established a youth offender parole process for people who were under 18 at the time of a crime but who were tried as an adult and sentenced to an adult prison term. The new law that the governor signed extends eligibility under the 2014 statute from age 18 at the time of the crime to 22.
Jose Angel Perez’s appellate lawyers believe he will benefit from Senate Bill 261, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October and makes more than 12,000 youthful offenders in California eligible for early parole hearing.
Perez was 21 when Ouch was killed. He could benefit from the new law because he has been a model prisoner, is remorseful and wasn’t the person who fired the shots that killed the two victims, Jones said.
Perez was the last of several defendants to be tried and given a long prison term. He had fled to Mexico after Ouch was killed and lived there five years before his arrest by the FBI.
Fresno police said Ouch was visiting relatives at an apartment complex that was a Tiny Rascal Gang hangout when she was shot and killed. Her killing drove her husband, Chanbory Nop, to commit suicide.
During Perez’s trial in January 2014, Jones told the jury that Perez was too drunk and high on Ecstasy to know what he was doing. His intent was to spray the Tiny Rascal Gang hangout with bullets – not kill anyone, he said.
In addition, Ouch and her unborn baby were killed by a single bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle, Jones said. Perez was armed with a handgun.
Sokmorn Chea, the Asian Boyz member who fired 30 rounds from an AK-47, was convicted in 2007 of killing Ouch. He is serving life in prison without parole.
Dupras, however, told jurors that Perez was just as guilty as Chea, saying both men hid in the dark at Easterby Elementary School and waited for their enemies to leave the apartment complex before firing their weapons.
A total of 38 shell casings were collected at the crime scene, eight of which came from the handgun used by Perez, court records say. In addition, a prosecution witness testified that Perez claimed to have fired his rounds into the air.
Jurors also heard Perez’s recorded interview with police: “I’m sorry, but it wasn’t (my) intention. It wasn’t (my) intention to kill nobody that day. Nothing was supposed to happen.”
Perez declined to testify in the trial, but some of his Asian Boyz associates, who also are doing long prison terms for their roles in Ouch’s death, testified against him.
Before he was sentenced, Perez told Ouch’s family and friends in Ellison’s courtroom that he was sorry. “I’m here as a man today to accept responsibility for my actions,” he said.
In announcing the sentence, Ellison said Perez has shown remorse for killing Ouch. But “justice demands that these lives be respected,” the judge said.