Appeals Court Overturns Activist’s Murder Conviction

In an unpublished ruling released earlier this month, a divided panel of the California’s First District Court of Appeal overturned the murder conviction of DeAngelo Cortijo, a well known Bay Area  criminal justice reform advocate.   The San Jose Mercury News reports that a jury found Cortijo guilty of the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Oakland resident Jamad Jerkins in 2016.  At trial, Jerkins’ girlfriend testified that he had told her about an earlier incident where Cortijo had pulled a gun on Jerkins.   The judge sustained the defense objection that the girlfriend’s statement was hearsay, and instructed the jury to ignore it, but he refused Cortijo’s request for a mistrial.   Cortijo later testified that he had confronted Jerkins in an apartment parking lot, pointing a loaded gun at him,  and claimed that when Jerkins tried to slap the gun away, it went off.

The prosecution presented grainy security camera video of the confrontation,  which did not show the actual shooting.  But the testimony of several eyewitnesses indicating that Cortijo had intentionally shot the victim, convinced the jury of his guilt.  On Appeal Cortijo argued that the girlfriend’s testimony about the prior incident had so prejudiced the jury that he could no longer receive a fair trial and that a mistrial was required.  The appellate court agreed, holding that the judge’s refusal to grant a mistrial was reversible error and overturned the conviction.  In a dissenting opinion, Judge Carin Fujisaki noted that there was overwhelming evidence of Cortijo’s guilt, including his own testimony that he had a prior heated encounter with the victim.  “There is no reasonable likelihood that but for hearing (Jerkin’s girlfriend’s) statement the jury would have been persuaded to reach a different verdict.”  The court’s ruling can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.