Petitions Signed

Levin hunters: This 1996 Los Angeles Times story summarizes the reasonable doubts around Ron Levin’s disappearance.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Dead or Alive?
Billionaire Boys Club founder, convicted of murder, contends victim is still living. Prosecutors doubt witnesses’ accounts.

July 12, 1996
Alan Abrahamson

Ron Levin is dead. Or maybe he’s not.

Joe Hunt helped kill him and then buried the body in the Angeles National Forest.

Or maybe he didn’t and, like Elvis, Levin keeps turning up: at a funeral, driving a car through Brentwood, even relaxing in a taverna on a trendy Greek island.

Levin’s body has never been found.

And therein lies the riddle that has dominated a reprise of the Billionaire Boys Club saga–the drama that riveted Los Angeles in the 1980s and played out again over recent months at the Criminal Courts Building.

Is Levin really dead? Or has Levin, a skilled con artist, staged his own disappearance and pulled the ultimate con?

Hunt, the charismatic leader of the club and himself a man who’s been described as a con of some renown, was convicted nine years ago of murder. Since March, he and his lawyers have been back in court, arguing that he deserves a new trial, mostly on grounds that Levin is alive and well.

Read the rest at LATimes.com

Video: How does society benefit when a nonviolent person spends decades behind bars?

Parole boards base their decisions on whether or not a person poses a threat to society.

Joe Hunt argues that his three-decade documented history of nonviolence, even under the “pressure cooker” of prison, proves he poses no threat of future crimes.

Transcript:
I recognize that the whole issue of whether I’m guilty or not, from a perspective of a third party who didn’t live my life, and obviously can’t recall something that would exonerate me, because they weren’t there. And perhaps they weren’t even alive then, they were born subsequent to my arrest and conviction and the events described.

I recognize that, there’s no way they can look through all of this and know for sure one way or the other. So what I would say is that what I want them to think about is that I’ve been in prison now for 31 years. And I did some years in county before that, county jail, and during that whole time that I’ve been in custody, I did not get involved in any sort of violent interaction with other prisoners. I have absolutely no write ups for violence or for drugs or any of that kind of serious misbehavior.

So prison is just like its shown in the movies like there’s, that’s something that Hollywood does justice. The prison movies that show the gang life and the violence and active main life which is where I have been living over the years. It’s accurate. That’s the way life is. It’s a pressure cooker. People are often at their worst and the fact that I have been able to live under that environment and walk a path of peace and non-violence, I think says something about who I am right now.

Regardless of whatever did or didn’t happen in 1984, just setting that aside for the sake of argument, the question then becomes for society to consider: Is it okay a person that has obviously made a commitment to non-violence and to living a moral and decent existence even under the harsh circumstances of prison — should that person be considered for parole? And I hope when it comes to that question, that people say yes that person is worthy of consideration for parole.

You know, whether I should actually be paroled would be decision by the board of prison hearings, but if my sentence is commuted, I’d be eligible for that consideration, and then society’s representatives can decide whether, based on my life in prison, in my last 30 years, I represent a threat to society.

Most people don’t realize that’s the core criteria about whether people are paroled or not. It’s a criteria of the evaluation of future endangerment. So the question is, is this guy who is almost 60 now, is he a threat to society?

And I would think that even my worst detractors, the people who just align with the prosecution theory, would recognize that I am not a threat to society, that the circumstance that they alleged to have occurred and the motivations, and the whole complex interaction between this notorious con man Ron Levin and the BBC — which was an unusual occurrence in and of itself — that whole bizarre incarnation of circumstances is not going to be reproduced.

I’m not like some guy who is accused of doing a series of home burglaries because I got a habit a heroin habit and I’m trying to get drugs. I’m not a person who has been diagnosed with some mental disorder that causes them to be vicious and I’m not a person who is accused of having some qualities or characteristics that makes me a predator.

So at the age of 60, I think, objectively speaking, there’s just no other future dangerousness. I think that that supports the decision for commutation and for potentially parole.

That’s a life parole. Whenever you get paroled on a life sentence you remain under supervision, under a watchful eye, for the rest of your life.

Joe Hunt answers the question, “What is the first thing you would do if you were out of prison?”

It’s a question you might idly ask of friends, as part of a what-if game: “What if you were in prison for thirtysomething years, and got out. Where would you want to go first?”

For Joe, this isn’t a game, but his real life. After more than thirty years in prison, he had a ready answer to the question.

Transcript:

I want to go to the beach with my family, my wife, and a few close friends. When I was growing up, my mother used to take me to the beach with my siblings. My brother and my sister, Catherine. I mean, if they could both be there, that would be wonderful.

But it would be the beach because I have so many wonderful memories of my mom – may she rest in peace – and our family before all the years of trouble.

The beach is the complete opposite of prison. It’s wide open in all directions… And of course, the natural forces – the tides, the winds, the sun, and everything is in contrast to prison. Life in prison, which is structured so that it is bars, it’s unforgiving. So yeah, it would be the beach with friends and family.

Video: Joe Hunt discusses how he helped other prisoners get legal and medical help.

Initially, Joe Hunt’s work as a “jailhouse lawyer” was out of self-interest, but as he matured, he realized it was a powerful way to do good for others.

Here, Joe describes how his legal work led to a court order to get treatment for a severe burn victim, and also laid the groundwork for the first inmate treatment of Hepatitis C at his facility.

Transcript:

The initial inclination to help others was to find basically a trait that worked in the prison society, because like any other place, if you have a role to play, it confers a particular level of safety.

I mean there are a few reasons, one of them was I seemed to have a knack for it. I became notorious in the prison circles for being competent in that area because of successfully defending myself with San Mateo, and certainly with guys that were up in San Mateo county.

And there was the human level, which is somebody asks for your help, and you’re able to give it. This is quite natural, for me at least, to want to do something in that regard.

As I said also, it works. It’s functional in a prison situation. You don’t want to be categorized as muscle, it’d be better to be part of the brain or the resource on that level. But, I’ve always drawn a clean line from the beginning about choosing what cases I work on. I’ve had situations where people have come to me sometimes in a little committee and told me I was going to work on a particular legal project, and I’ve said no. That for me has always been non-negotiable. I will not submit to that kind of pressure, and I haven’t.

So, in the beginning, there were selfish reasons, and later on as I grew as a man and deepened my meditation and broadened myself spiritually – I saw it as a way of doing good, of doing something other than leaving wreckage behind me. I’m referring to my early twenties when I created a lot of wreckage or participated in a variety of train wrecks.

And so, I guess it was Angel… just to give you the story – Angel is still a California prisoner, and he had, he had been burned in an accident after a high speed chase, but it had burned over like 85% of his body. He had scarring everywhere over his head, over his face, his eyes – didn’t really have any eyelids, and he had scars that prevented him from closing his hands. His fingers looked like they were made of wax and melted.

And, now there was this report from the doctor at UC Davis Medical Center saying that many of these conditions could be alleviated if he got surgery, but for some reason that surgery was not forthcoming. Angel was not a primary English speaker, and he pushed the… he asked me for help, and I worked on it. Ultimately, the result was the Superior Court found the prison system had been grossly indifferent to his serious medical needs and ordered that he get the treatment that the UC Davis medical doctor said would alleviate it.

And he did get that surgery, and he was able to start playing soccer again. He was able to close his eyes at night after the surgery. Angel was sleeping like a zombie, eyes wide open all night, and the wound on the back of his head that had never closed was closed. So it stopped oozing puss. Anyhow, that was a project I worked on. Things like that are pretty gratifying.

I also did the medical work that led to the first prisoner getting treatment for Hepatitis C back in the day.

Interview with Joe about overincarceration in America

Joe discusses the direction of the American prison system. “The system has drifted from its roots. A lot of people are being locked up that are not a threat to society.”

 

Transcript:

Well, the traditional role of prisons in society before there was this explosion in the prison-industrial complex was to keep people that were predators off the streets.

People that were serial bank robbers, serial rapists, serial murderers. And also to punish people severely enough to check the worst impulses of humankind.

I think that the prisons, as one who’s lived within it, I can’t help but have ideas about it. As one who’s read a lot of books about incarceration, theology, and the explosion of incarceration in the United States, I feel that we’ve — that the system has drifted from its roots. It’s no longer — a lot of people are being locked up who are not threats to society.

I mean, in my experience about, I would guess, over half the men that are in prison yards are just regular guys. They’re not morally superior, or inferior to the man on the street. And I know that’s a very provocative thing to say, but from the inside looking at these — I mean, some of the BBC guys were definitely morally inferior to the average guy at prison.

At least those guys were as they existed in the early 1980s. I mean some of the guys that I was running with there, on reflection, they did not have a conscience. They were not sufficiently concerned about the well-being of other people. They were cavalier about other people’s feelings and property and rights and dignity.

I won’t go into specific stories or names but we were not a bunch of decent and upstanding people as they tend to try to portray themselves on the stand.

The incarceration in the United States is like 5 or 6 times that of the rest of the free world. So why is that going on? Why are so many people either in jail, in prison, or on probation? Is it really necessary to have a functioning society to have that many people locked up? And the cost is just massive.

There’s so much wreckage, where guys that could be out on the street having a job and a relationship with their family are in here and the taxpayers spending $60,000 a year for their upkeep in perpetuity. I just don’t think the balance is being set properly.

I think that Governor Brown is addressing that for reasons that run parallel to some of the points that I’ve been making and for other reasons. He’s a profoundly learned expositor of changing the relationship between prison and society. So it seems pretty obvious not just to me but to a growing movement of people that the balance should be a given.

Fighting to End the Other Death Sentence: Life Without Parole

TRUTHOUT

By Jean Troustine

When incarcerated people in 17 states initiated a 19-day prison strike last month, one of their 10 demands was that all “imprisoned humans have [the] possibility of rehabilitation and parole.” This includes the opportunity for early release, allowing prisoners both to exit before the end of their sentence and to serve their remaining time in the community.

The Lady Lifers at SCI Muncy sing, "This Is Not My Home" at TEDx in 2014.
The Lady Lifers at SCI Muncy sing, “This Is Not My Home” at TEDx in 2014.
COURTESY OF ELLEN MELCHIONDO AND NAOMI BLOUNT

 

 

It also means an end to the harsh sentencing practice known as life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). In an August 26 interview with MSNBC, formerly incarcerated activist Darren Mack described LWOP as “death by incarceration,” explaining, “You will not leave prison until you die.”

Noted political scientist and author Marie Gottschalk has called life without parole “death in slow motion.” Pope Francis deemed it “a death penalty in disguise.” Kenneth Hartman, who served more than 37 years in prison before California governor Jerry Brown commuted his sentence, was the first to label it “the other death penalty.” When he was still behind bars, Hartman wrote for The Marshall Project that life without parole is “the sense of being dead while you’re still alive, the feeling of being dumped into a deep well struggling to tread water until, some 40 or 50 years later, you drown.”

Across the country, activists inside and outside prison are making headway in organizing to end this harsh sentencing practice. They say more and more people are realizing that the US is an outlier in extreme sentencing. Jonathan Simon, writing in Life Without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty by Charles Ogletree and Austin Serat, Jr., explains that the United States, unlike Europe, rejects the role of “dignity” in its sentencing practices. Joseph Dole, currently serving life without parole at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois, and the author of numerous articles (several published in Truthout) discussed progress against harsh sentencing in a letter: “There has finally been an acknowledgment that long sentences are the main driver of mass incarceration, that people age out of crime and are thus less of a threat when they are older, and that longer sentences don’t deter or reduce crime.”

 

Read the rest at Truthout.org

Report wants life without parole abolished

ABC NEWS

By Kevin Johnson and USA Today

A record 140,610 inmates in state and federal prisons are serving life sentences and nearly one-third of those have no possibility of parole, according to a criminal justice research group that supports alternatives to incarceration.

The Sentencing Project, whose reports are regularly cited in academic and government reviews examining criminal justice policy, concluded that the number of inmates sentenced to life without parole has more than tripled to 41,095 since 1992. The report, citing in part the rising cost of incarceration, urges that life without parole be abolished.

The recommendation was met with strong opposition from some law enforcement officials who said life sentences, including life without parole, help drive down violent crime.

Joseph Cassilly, past president of the National District Attorneys Association, acknowledged that long prison terms are a “huge drain on resources.”

Read more at ABC News

Inmate paroled with Joe Hunt’s help

With the help of Joe Hunt, William Baldwin of Contra Costa County was released on September 8, 2018 from the California Health Care Facility at Stockton.

Joe met William, nicknamed “D,” at Pleasant Valley State Penitentiary, and the two became friends. In 2014, William received a copy of a letter sent by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to his trial judge demanding an increase in his sentence. In the letter, corrections officials took the position that there had been a sentencing error in William’s case, and they believed the law required William’s trial judge to increase his sentence by two years.

William came to Joe for help, and Joe filed a brief in opposition to CDCR’s request for resentencing on William’s behalf. After reviewing Joe’s filing, William’s trial judge did the exact opposite of what the corrections department had recommended: he reduced William’s sentence by two and a half years.

“Any time I have an opportunity to help someone in need, I am grateful,” Joe said. “It’s deeply gratifying to know that I had a role obtaining justice, and ultimately, freedom, for a friend.”

A 1987 Los Angeles Times story described the “crusty” judge who presided over Joe Hunt’s trial as one who “has been known to rule before hearing the evidence,” with an “unorthodox judicial style.”

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Laurence J. Rittenband, 81, Shows an Unorthodox Style: Crusty Judge Rules His Court With Iron Hand

April 13, 1987

Lois Timnick
Times Staff Writer

He has been known to rule before hearing the evidence and to show his disdain for a written motion by tossing it in the wastebasket.

He makes–and sustains–his own objections. He grills witnesses when he thinks they have not been thoroughly questioned.

He sometimes tells lawyers appearing before him to “shut up” or “get on with it.” He frequently evicts a defense attorney he dislikes from his Santa Monica courtroom. And he once berated jurors who voted to acquit a defendant, saying that the verdict was “the most horrible miscarriage of justice” he had ever witnessed.

Unorthodox Judicial Style

Now a crusty 81, Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband is believed to be the oldest full-time judge on the bench in California. While presiding over the murder trial of Billionaire Boys Club leader Joe Hunt–which is scheduled to go to the jury this week after 2 1/2 months of testimony–he has astonished courtroom observers with an unorthodox judicial style that some call “refreshing” and others “reprehensible.”

The short, stocky judge leaves no doubt as to what he thinks of the participants–a tendency which occasionally results in the prosecutor’s siding with the defense against him.

“I am gravely concerned with the course that the court is taking,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Frederick Nathan Wapner told Rittenband during an in-chambers discussion about his refusal to permit Hunt’s second defense attorney to question witnesses.

“I will take my chances,” the judge snapped back, according to a transcript. “I know that you have an obsession about any kind of error. . . . I am running this trial, not you nor they.”

Read the rest at LATimes.com

California considering end to felony murder rule

ABA JOURNAL

The Marshall Project reported last week that the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee had recommended the approval of a bill to limit murder prosecutions to people who intended to kill, actually killed or behaved with reckless indifference to human life. The bill has already been passed by the California State Senate.

Read more at ABA Journal

2008 Daily Journal story notes that “Even the prosecutor fretted that Hunt’s rights were at risk” during trial

“Billionaire Boys Club” Revisited

DAILY JOURNAL

Lawyer says backroom deal led to celebrated murder conviction for client 21 years ago

Nov. 21, 2008

By John Roemer
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Tales of the felonious preppies who ran the “Billionaire Boys Club” riveted Los Angeles in the 1980s and involved murder conspiracies, trials and convictions, two books and a TV movie.

The saga’s latest installment features the club’s imprisoned leader, Joe Hunt, who has a conspiracy theory of his own. An illicit backroom deal between a Los Angeles trial judge and a lawyer for Hunt should erase Hunt’s 1987 murder conviction and life-without-parole sentence and spring him from state prison, Hunt’s new lawyer contends.

A federal habeas corpus appeal ongoing in the Central District of California argues that the late Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband drove a lawyer he disliked off Hunt’s defense team, depriving him of the right to counsel and fatally flawing his trial. Hunt v. Kernen, 98-5280.

State prosecutors defending Hunt’s conviction countered that a California appeal court has already authoritatively dismissed Hunt’s claims. Hunt’s attorney retorted that the state court’s reasoning is irreconcilable with the Constitution.

More…

Free Joe Hunt

If you believe in hope, justice, and rehabilitation, join our cause, and give hope not only to Joe Hunt, but to prisoners everywhere sentenced to life without parole -- "the other death penalty."