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L.A. Dad Faces Third Strike on Weak Charges

New America Media, News Report , Kenneth Kim Posted: Aug 02, 2008

Editor's Note: Despite a lack of evidence against him, an L.A. resident could be convicted of his third felony and serve 25 years to life under California's three strikes law. The new father, who recently turned his life around, doesn't deserve such punishment, friends and advocates say. New America Media writer Kenneth Kim reports from Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES Darkness still shrouded South Los Angeles in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, 2007, when authorities raided the house of Edmond Brandy, a 32-year-old man with two prior felony convictions, to search for a handgun that he had allegedly aimed at a passing car two months earlier on an Orange County freeway. The officers and detectives from California Highway Patrol found no gun but arrested him.

edmond brandySeven months later, charged with brandishing a weapon at motorists and possession of a firearm by a felon, Brandy is fighting for his life and his family, which he just started building after getting out of prison two years ago.

Under Californias three strikes law, this oil refinery worker now faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Brandy and his wife, who were childhood friends, met again in church after he got out of prison and were married a little over a year ago. Now he faces losing her and his 11-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

As a teenager, Brandy drifted away and started hanging out with a group of troublemakers. After the death of his mother, at 19, he and his friends robbed a Beef Bowl with a BB gun. While he was serving the sentence for the robbery, he got involved in a fight in the prison yard, earning his second conviction.

Since getting out of prison, Brandy has worked to change his life, dedicate himself to his family and help at-risk teenagers make the right decisions.

Now he risks losing it all in what his family calls a blatant injustice.

Even a judge saw the lack of evidence in my husbands case, said Raeleen Taylor Brandy, a behavior therapist for delinquent juveniles. Hes never owned a gun in his life.

The episode was set in motion in the morning of Oct. 26, 2007, when Adrian Arias called 911 at about 8 a.m. to report a road rage incident on the eastbound freeway 91 in Orange County, telling the authority that the driver of a Volkswagen had threatened Arias and his three fellow passengers with a gun.

According to the police report, Arias was driving his 1992 Chevrolet in the carpool lane, going 40 to 50 mph because of the poor visibility caused by the dense fog. A Volkswagen that had been tailgating Ariass car reportedly came within one foot of the car, and Arias tapped on his brakes. The other driver started honking his horn and flashing his headlights and then swerved into the next lane over so he was parallel with the car. Johanna Hipolito, who was sitting next to her boyfriend in the front passenger seat, flipped off the other driver with her middle finger. The other driver responded with the same gesture.

During the confrontation, according to Arias and Hipolito's statements, the other driver suddenly rolled down his a passenger window and aimed a handgun at them.

The California Highway Patrol conducted a two-month-long investigation into the incident, and discovered that the registered owner of the Volkswagen was on active parole for committing an armed robbery.

Brandy isnt the first person to face life in prison under Californias three strikes law, which doubles the sentence of second-time felons and mandates 25 years to life imprisonment for those convicted of a third felony.

The law aims to curtail felons from committing more violent crimes, yet groups advocating for its reform say that in practice it targets less violent, older offenders, and only contributes to an already overcrowded prison system. A report released by the Sentencing Project of Washington, D.C., a liberal think tank, indicates that, in the first five years after the 1994 law took effect, in nearly six of 10 cases in which offenders were imprisoned for 25 years to life, their third conviction was for a property, drug or other nonviolent crime.

Groups like Families to Amend California's Three Strikes also claim that enforcement of the law discriminates against blacks and Latinos. Seventeen times more blacks have been charged under the law compared to whites in Los Angeles County. Forty-five percent of those who receive a third strike sentence are black, and 26 percent are Latino.

Brandy, who rebuilt his family after serving 10 years for the crimes he committed as a teenager, told police that the 91 Freeway is a route he used to go to work. But he denied any involvement in the confrontation.

prayer vigil

His attorney and family have raised questions about the truthfulness of the witnesses statements.

At a court hearing in early July where more than 20 supporters of Brandy showed up, Adrian Arias couldnt positively identify Brandy as the person who threatened him and his girlfriend with a gun, although he had previously picked out his mug shot from a photo line-up of six suspects.

The victims descriptions of the gun that Brandy allegedly brandished are inconsistent. Arias and his girlfriend told the police they saw a black gun with a round barrel. However, Ray Monroy, the third victim sitting in the left rear passenger seat, described it as a nickel-plated semiautomatic weapon with a square type barrel. The district attorneys office wasnt able to produce Monroy as a witness at the preliminary hearing because he couldnt be located - the fourth victim is Arias's 2-year-old son.

The weapon that was allegedly brandished at the victims has not been found.

Before sending the case to trial, Judge James O. Perez, who presided over the preliminary hearing, questioned whether the prosecution would be able to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt with the evidence it has.

The burden of proving the defendants guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is not required in evidentiary hearings, explained Judge Perez, who added, If I were sitting in the jury, I wouldnt vote for a conviction.

How can a fellow be arrested based on a he-said accusation, and then be placed behind bars without any evidence whatsoever? asked Deborah Brandy, the sister of Edmond who works as an elementary school principal for the Los Angeles Unified School District. This is a grave injustice were looking at. As Dr. King so eloquently stated, an injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere.

Ex-convicts on parole often go back to prison, added Raymond Taylor, Brandys father-in-law. But Edmond turned his life around and was leading an exemplary life.

Related Articles:

From Hustler to Family Man: Ex-Con Goes Home

Fewer Felons Returning to Illinois Prisons

Black Panthers Released From Solitary Confinement

Three Strikes Law Strikes Out Latinos, African Americans

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