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Murder Conviction Ordered Vacated

California v. Keel Docket: D079181 (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: October 21, 2022. In 2005, fifteen-year-old Davion Keel and eighteen-year-old Ariel Bolton held Barry Knight at gunpoint and robbed him of twenty dollars on the streets of San Bernardino. One of them shot and killed Knight when he resisted the robbery and tried to flee. Keel and Bolton were both prosecuted in adult criminal court and convicted of first degree murder in connection with Knight’s death. More than a decade later, Keel petitioned to vacate his murder conviction and to be resentenced under Penal Code section 1172.6 based on legislative changes to California's murder laws. The trial court denied the petition for resentencing, finding Keel was not entitled to relief because he remained liable for Knight’s murder because he was a major participant in the underlying robbery and he acted with reckless indifference to human life. Keel appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the trial court’s finding that he was a major participant in the underlying robbery who acted with reckless indifference to human life. In the alternative, he contended the court applied an incorrect legal standard when it adjudicated his petition for resentencing. The Court of Appeal agreed with Keel’s first argument, which rendered it unnecessary to reach his second argument. Because there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s determination, the Court reversed the order denying Keel’s resentencing petition and remanded the matter to the trial court with directions to grant Keel’s resentencing petition and vacate his murder conviction. Further, the Court concluded Proposition 57, the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, and Senate Bill 1391 (2017–2018 Reg. Sess.) would apply retroactively to Keel once his petition for resentencing was granted and his murder conviction was vacated. Therefore, on remand, the Court instructed the trial court to transfer the matter to the juvenile court for resentencing in accordance with those measures.

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