The Judge and the Case That Came Back to Haunt Him

One month after Harris sent her letter to Guy, there was a changing of the guard in San Francisco law enforcement, one that would help clear the way for cases like Guy’s. Chesa Boudin was elected to the district attorney’s office on a progressive platform. Once in office, he established a “post-conviction unit,” whose chief mandates were hunting out wrongful convictions and finding inmates serving long terms who could be released without posing a danger to the public. Overseen by Boudin’s chief of staff, Kate Chatfield, an assistant district attorney named Dana Drusinsky started scouring prison files. A 58-year-old woman who offended at 17 seemed like a good candidate. They mentioned her name to Harris’s office. Harris, of course, knew exactly who they were talking about.

Harris had given the Guy file to Andrea Lindsay, a public defender with a warm, purposeful manner. Lindsay’s task was to take Guy’s record and assemble it into a narrative. When it came to the crime, it wasn’t the public defender’s job to ask about the details of why or how. At this point, Guy had done so much time that it stopped mattering. What might matter to a judge, Lindsay thought, were some of the odd features of the case, which she started writing out in her motion. The plea agreement had been pulled. That was weird enough. But it all stemmed from another, more fundamental mystery: the original fitness hearing. Lindsay could see that Kline had been the judge, but the transcript was nowhere to be found — she didn’t even know if there was one. Leaving out what was unknowable, she laid out the case for release: Guy had been too young, she was no longer dangerous and keeping her in prison was not in the interest of justice.

The next step was for Chatfield’s team to notify the family of Albert Hohl that it was about to reopen the case of the woman who killed him. Hohl’s relatives disapproved. One wrote in a letter, “I do not feel it’s right that she is released to live a normal life when Albert was brutally murdered.” But by now the wheels were turning. The case would be assigned to a judge up at Woodside, to anyone with room on the calendar.

In April 2021, Guy was driven to San Francisco from Chowchilla. A guard placed her in a holding cell at Woodside. Her siblings had gathered outside the courtroom: her sister Rosetta, a desk clerk at a single-room occupancy hotel in the Mission, and her brother Marty, a Department of Public Works employee. A middle-aged white man entered alone, unrecognized by anybody — Perdigone’s fiancé, Daniel.

Kline was in his chambers, preparing. Since the case’s return to his jurisdiction, he had been wrestling with how to handle it. Some judges, he knew, might recuse themselves in a situation like this: Because Kline was “the one who sent her to prison,” he thought, the assumption would be that he would feel biased in favor of his own previous decision. But Kline thought he could approach the matter down the middle, according to the law. The law demanded that he decide the case as though he were seeing it for the first time. Essentially, he thought, he was making his present-day self into the juvenile judge he prevented Guy from seeing originally.

Lindsay’s motion had made for interesting reading. Kline was not one of those people, like Boudin, who believe that the criminal-justice system needs a wholesale overhaul. He considered American courts to be among the fairest in the world. He considered the California courts to be among the fairest in the United States. He thought that Guy had deserved to go to prison, period. But when it was all laid out together, the story assumed a scandalous dimension.

When Guy left Woodside in 1981, she was tracked into adult court, where the prosecutor offered her a deal. If she pleaded guilty to murder, he would send her to the California Youth Authority for a term of eight years, the same punishment that Wright received. As there was no legal distinction in the 1980s between the shooter and the accomplice in felony homicide, this wouldn’t have been a way of letting Guy off easy, but rather a by-the-book treatment for a juvenile. The plea had probably made sense for a second reason — the persistent problem of motive. As Kline knew from the Wright case, the girls had not gone looking for a handgun to commit murder that night. They had been given a handgun by an adult. While this didn’t make Hohl’s killing less serious, it seemed to cast the whole event in a different light — more impulsive, less vicious. Cruel, stupid and senseless, not premeditated.

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