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On Monday, a judge denied a motion by Los Angeles County prosecutors to drop special charges against an alleged cop killer that could keep him in prison for the rest of his life if convicted, without the possibility of parole.
The office of newly-elected L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón had asked the court to drop all special circumstance allegations and gun enhancements against Rhett Nelson. Nelson is accused of murdering two men on June 10, 2019, along with committing a series of robberies and an attempted murder, during a two-day crime spree across Southern California. Police say he shot L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano, 50, in the back of the head in Alhambra, Calif., after killing Dmitry Koltsov, a famed 31-year-old snowboarder who had been skateboarding in downtown L.A., about an hour earlier.
Deputy Solano’s family attended the preliminary hearing on Monday to voice their opposition to the dismissals, which would have taken the possibility of life without parole off the table.
“You have an obligation under [Penal Code] 1385 to demonstrate to this court that it’s in the interest of justice,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jose Sandoval told prosecutors. “In fact, given what the victims have told me today, it is not in the interest of justice in this court’s opinion. The motion is denied.”
BREAKING: In rebuke to D.A. George Gascon's reforms, judge has DENIED motion to drop all gun enhancements & special circumstances against Rhett Nelson, man charged with murdering LASD deputy Joseph Solano & skateboarder Dmitry Koltsov. Nelson had an outburst after ruling. @FOXLA pic.twitter.com/htzduRcYlQ
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) January 11, 2021
Deputy Solano’s sister, Christina Solano, told FOX 11 News that her family was “relieved.”
“This is justice that happened today,” she continued.
After taking the oath of office last month, D.A. Gascón had instructed prosecutors to withdraw enhancements and allegations in many pending cases.
Sentence enhancements and special circumstance allegations are intended to act as extra punishments, added on to the charge of an underlying offense. This case includes special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, along with accusations of using a handgun in the commission of those crimes.
“The evidence in this case, it was not in the interest of justice to do what Gascón has been attempting to do in all of his cases,” said Sam Dordulian, an attorney representing Solano’s family. “Blanket approaches simply don’t work.”
In what the Los Angeles Times described as “an unprecedented move,” the outlet reports that Judge Sandoval “allowed the San Diego County district attorney’s office to move to reclaim jurisdiction” over several charges filed against Nelson.
According to The Times, San Diego County Dist. Atty. Summer Stephen had requested the court “give her office control over five robbery counts” that Nelson allegedly committed outside of L.A. County, adding:
Stephan had agreed to consolidate all charges in Los Angeles, but changed her mind in response to Gascón’s directive barring prosecutors from using enhancements. According to her filing, Stephan feared Nelson could become eligible for parole after spending 20 years in prison if convicted without enhancements.
Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, disputed Stephan’s math late Monday, saying Nelson could face up to 68 years in state prison if convicted on all charges he currently faces.
Superior Court Judge Jose Sandoval agreed that Stephan could reclaim jurisdiction. A technical issue over how to sever the cases must still be resolved, but San Diego prosecutors plan to file robbery charges in their jurisdiction soon, according to a spokeswoman for Stephan’s office.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called Gascón’s special directives “illegal and unconstitutional” in a letter sent to his office on Monday. She told Gascón she “will never grant” his office “authority over any Sacramento case.”
Gascón’s new directives sparked a revolt from law enforcement groups in California and several deputy district attorneys within his own office. Victims’ families and prosecutors connected with media outlets, and their stories helped create new Gascón critics who were generally quiet during the election.