Neko Wilson Becomes First Person Released by California SB 1437

 Jacque Wilson, left, and his father, Mack Wilson, right, testify about their brother and son Neko Wilson, during a California Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing at the State Capitol in Sacramento in June. Photo by  Max Whittaker

Jacque Wilson, left, and his father, Mack Wilson, right, testify about their brother and son Neko Wilson, during a California Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing at the State Capitol in Sacramento in June. Photo by Max Whittaker

In the first test of a newly signed law (SB 1437) that significantly narrows California’s felony murder rule, a judge today ordered the immediate release of a man who has spent nearly a decade awaiting trial in double murder.

Neko Wilson, now 36, had initially faced the death penalty in connection with the July 2009 murders of Gary and Sandra DeBartolo, a couple killed during a robbery at their home in California’s Central Valley. Prosecutors had accused Wilson of helping plan the robbery, not of killing the couple. He initially faced the death penalty under a legal doctrine known as the felony murder rule, which holds that anyone involved in certain types of serious felonies that result in death can be held as liable as the actual killer.

But a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September significantly narrowed that doctrine and prompted prosecutors to drop the murder charges against Wilson.

In court, Neko Wilson agreed to a plea deal on robbery charges, as well as charges in unrelated cases. The total sentence for those charges added up to nine years, the amount of time he’s already been jailed awaiting trial.

Read more about Neko Wilson’s case.

Judson ParkerComment