Joe Hunt explains how he chose which inmates to offer legal assistance to, and several ways that he did this.
So you asked about what sort of results I’ve gotten for other prisoners who’ve been seeking to either overturn their conviction or to be acquitted at trial.
I’ve spent 9 years of my life in county jails, about half in L.A. county jail and half in San Mateo, about 7 of those years while I was actively pro per—which means representing myself. So, many prisoners came to me to ask for help with their cases.
I was very selective about who I chose to assist, and factors about what they were charged with and who they were played a major role.
I was not interested in helping people that I felt were what I would call sick with it; in other words, they were going to choose the criminal lifestyle…
In any event, there have been sixteen people that were either facing life sentences or had life sentences that I’ve assisted to regain their freedom—about evenly split between people that I mentored while I was in county jail so that they would be acquitted.
These were guys that were representing themselves and people that I filed habeas petitions for, or on behalf of, from prison that were released by the courts.
In addition, there were dozens of people that got reductions in sentences as a result of petitions that I filed.
Joe talks about what he thinks happened to Ron Levin. It’s likely that Levin jumped bail, especially in light of witness accounts that Levin was researching Brazilian extradition treaties and had inquired about dyeing his hair.
I have thought about this a great deal over the years and tried to extrapolate what he would do or did in that situation so you know, his actual fate as a matter of personal knowledge is a mystery to me because my last point of contact with him was June 5th.
So far as I can reconstruct and recall, what I have seen of course is the same eyewitness accounts that my jury in San Mateo heard, about people in some cases had prior relationships with Ron, had been over to his house, as Gerard had been for dinner, or had contact with him like Robbie Robinson and had seen him subsequently.
So those eyewitness reports, and some of them were asked to take polygraphs, and the ones who were asked took polygraphs passed them with flying colors. And so those reports have been persuasive to me of the fact that Ron Levin was alive through the last sighting, which was three years after his disappearance in Mykonos, the island of Mykonos in Greece.
I’ve also, since I’ve worked so hard on this case, I’ve seen the testimony and read interviews of people like Oliver Wendell Holmes (no relationship to the great jurist), but he was employed by Levin to work on Levin’s pending criminal cases. The charges Levin was facing before he disappeared and he said that Levin was discussing with him and researching Brazil’s extradition treaties and policies, which I find highly suspicious.
How many people are doing that right before they jump bail?
You know and then furthermore, John Duran, his hairdresser at the time said that Levin called him right before he disappeared and asked him how do I dye my hair. And then detective Les Douler tells us that brown stains that he tested and were not from blood but there was some brown staining in the porcelain of Levin’s bathtub which would be consistent with some last minute change to his hair color.
Now when he was seen late in ’86 and ’87, he had his gray hair, so the postulate and the hypothesis is that Levin initially decided to change his hair but didn’t like it and letting it grow back out grey by when he was seen in Tucson Arizona and when he was seen on the island of Mykonos.
Levin’s grey hair was one of his most striking features people say that he was kind of a he had a very distinctive look back in ’84, in ’83 in Beverly Hills. He graced the cover of a magazine once.
Anyhow, so based on the information evidence that I’ve seen and also based on statements of Levin made in my presence where he said that he would never go back to prison. I deduced a long time ago that he fled and when he was no longer available after June 6, 1984 and I couldn’t get a hold of him and I heard other people couldn’t get a hold of him, and by June 24th I had concluded that he had fled.
He had a pending case so he couldn’t just up and leave without violating the terms of his bail and he wouldn’t just violate the terms of his bail unless he intentionally fled so that was the conclusion I reached and I think it’s the conclusion the Beverly Hills Department reached for the first couple of months as well.
Joe describes how the bleakness of prison life can lead to thoughts of suicide.
Yes, I’ve been on yards that were so dark, I mean what we’re talking about is referred to in the prison system as active mainlines—like active level 4 mainlines in the California system.
An extremely dysfunctional society exists—as tribal—and the men are under tremendous pressure, and it’s bleak.
So, a lot of people commit suicide.
They don’t do it necessarily by hanging themselves, most often it’s a drug overdose. And a number of people that are brought back from overdoses now is really high because they have a special drug that they use to bring them back.
Otherwise, most of these people would have been successful. But you know, the level of despondency, despair, depression, as a result of the conditions of confinement, on active main lines is high.
And what was called the SHU, Special Housing Unit, for a number of years had guys that were doing 20-30 years behind walls, with no outside exercise other than what we call a dog run, which is just like a 10×10 cement area opened to the sky.
They get an hour of that or something a day, so in that level of misery, suicide becomes something that many people think about, a lot of people attempt, and of course, tragically some people succeed at.
That is probably the most primary and basic offense against the spirit—against the human spirit—possible.
Joe Hunt describes an uncanny experience involving law enforcement, donuts, and his spiritual beliefs.
It was 1987, I was in the Los Angeles County Jail in what they call the high power wing. So with me are people that have had fights and serious disciplinary problems in L.A. County Jail, people that are down from the penitentiary that are considered potential threats to the security of the institution, and high profile cases like myself.
So I got my own cell along this tier, and I’d just finished reading the Autobiography of a Yogi, which is considered the crest jewel of all spiritual autobiographies by many people—and I think the most read autobiography of all time. Anyhow, I’ve just finished the book, and the book is full of stories of things that are beyond all of our experiences. I mean levitating things, the power of prayer, various manifestations of spiritual beings and entities.
I’ve finished reading the book, I’m lying down on my bunk, the book’s on my chest, and I’m thinking, nothing in my life is in any way…I’ve had no experiences on that level at all. However, I was also thinking that the tone of the author—the way the book was written—I couldn’t imagine that the guy would make it up. The author seemed so sincere, had a great style, was witty, knowledgeable… I couldn’t… it just didn’t make any sense that it was a fabricated story. So, I’m thinking those things and my thoughts conclude with, “But I couldn’t pray for a bag of donuts and get them.”
And just at that moment, I heard a key turn in the lock at the end of the corridor, to which the cells of high power are opened. Anyhow I heard this key turn, I heard some boots coming, and I looked up—and there stopping in front of my cell was a deputy sheriff of the Los Angeles County Jail system. And he looked at me, and I didn’t know this guy, mind you, I had no interaction with him. He said—and he was holding a bag of donuts—and he looks at me and he says, “Hi, would you like some donuts?”
It was kind of an uncanny experience, and I’m not saying that I started believing or having any faith in prayer at that time, because I didn’t, but it put me back on my heels so to speak and made me think a bit. I started meditating as a result of an invitation in the autobiography, and I’ve been doing so ever since for 30 years.
Joe Hunt talks more about the Claim of Right Defense.
So if the jury had been properly instructed, and had received the law on the Claim of Right Defense, based upon the prosecution’s own theory of the case, they would have had to acquit me of robbery.
If I had been acquitted of robbery, and the special circumstance of robbery, I would not now be doing life without.
I would have received at most a sentence of 25 to life, and I would have been parole eligible like 20 years ago.
So, you know, this is a sort of issue, which because of legal procedural rules, the place to raise it is at trial and certain waiver and negligence documents take hold after you have been convicted. I didn’t learn of this legal theory until 1988 when I read a case called People v. Tufunga, which was a California Supreme Court decision on the Claim of Right Defense in the case of Mr. Tufunga.
Joe Hunt describes the deceit, pretense and posturing rampant through BBC, and the prevalence of flaws in the judicial system.
There are cases which say that prisoners can maintain their innocence and that no inferences to be drawn against them for making that assertion.
The reason the law has changed on the subject is they have come to realize that not all prisoners are guilty, that there have been so many cases where people have been wrongfully convicted, that it would be extremely unfair to coerce prisoners that maintained their innocence to say that they’re guilty as a precondition of release, since society itself must admit that all human processes, including the trial process, does not necessarily arrive at the truth.
I mean, there’s so many cases where there have been, with seemingly overwhelming evidence, where the person ended up being exonerated.
There was a huge number of cases before DNA, which, subsequent to DNA, were reinvestigated, and turned out the people that were convicted were innocent.
There’s that famous Florida case, where a guy convicted of seven rapes by seven women that independently identified him as their rapist and turned out not only was it not him, but it was a guy who’s almost a foot taller, a hundred pounds heavier, just massively different.
My case, we have no blood, no bullets, no body. We have a guy that was saying that he was gonna run, researched Brazilian extradition treaties, likely changed his hair the day before he disappear, changed his hair color, and was subsequently seen by like 10 independent, uninvolved citizen witnesses who they attested to his being alive.
So it’s pretty interesting to see how the judicial process could go wrong in my case when it’s all based upon, a “he said” sort of inference.
Like, Joe said that he killed him, therefore not only must he be dead but that Joe would of course tell the truth on such a subject. That’s the common inference. And of course that inference ignores the actual real-world dynamics of what was taking place between me, and the various factions of the BBC at the time and Ron Levin.
There was a lot of deceit going on, pretense and posturing. Everybody was trying to manipulate each other through smoke and mirrors. And my assertion as of June 24, 1984 meeting, that I had knocked off Ron Levin was part of the posturing and the dynamics between me and a faction of the BBC that was trying to, and ultimately did, steal the crown jewels of the BBC. Raided some of our accounts and took our… after torching with an acetylene torch a lock that doors of a warehouse in Gardena for Microgenesis of North America.
In this interview, Joe Hunt describes the to-do list entered as evidence was meant as a desperate ploy to intimidate Ron Levin into paying back the millions he owed BBC, because the con man had no fear of lawsuits.
This was something that was a bombshell in my second trial in San Mateo County. It’s the mainstay of the prosecution’s case, it’s their centerpiece and like you say, it’s what they have called the smoking gun.
The jury in San Mateo felt otherwise, and let me play out here that the thing that I am talking about I testified to. I did not hide from the San Mateo jury. I took the stand. I was on the stand for ten days. I was cross examined by the prosecution for five days. So it’s not just a case of well he’s just saying that you know in a recorded message on a Gtel conversation from prison. This was heard by a real jury and I have declarations from over half of that jury saying that they after seeing all the evidence including hearing my testimony, they felt that I should have been acquitted on the Levin charges.
But be that as it may, the to-do list, it’s a seven page document it is mostly in my handwriting, almost all in my handwriting, and I testified as to what that document was.
It was prepared, it was notes primarily from a meeting held at the BBC offices, involving some of the prosecution witnesses, and for obvious reasons they don’t want to admit that there was notes taken at that.
But we were trying to think of a plan because we’re dealing with this con man, Ron Levin and he’s judgement proof. So the idea of civilly suing him, it’s just like, get in line. There’s a whole list of the civil litigation he was involved in at that time.
He’s an expert of turning what was criminal fraud into a civil matter to avoid an arrest. He would even talk about that in our presence. Anyhow so the idea of suing him to recover the money he owed me as a result my profitable trading for him was not looked at as a viable alternative. So the idea came up that we would bluster and posture, like, bad things would happen to him if he didn’t pay.
If you seen TV, movies and things like that, this kind of a device commonly comes up in Hollywood movies and television shows where some group of people tries to fool or finagle another group into believing something is false in order to cause them to act in a way that’s expected. So this is pursued that’s what the notes were about and the notes became a prop in the plan to intimidate Levin. Where I showed the notes to Ron Levin, on June 5th and left them there in his possession. Now that would all just be my assertion, except for the fact that this woman named Karen Marmor, who was the wife of Len Marmor and a neighbor to Ron Levin testified in San Mateo county that she saw these to-do lists on Ron Levin’s desk while he was having a phone conversation. She was in his office waiting for him to get off that phone call. She saw them picked them and looked at them and saw some of the key words that in it and recalls it now.
Karen was during her professional career an officer in a bank. She is not a person that I had any relationship. We were not like friends or had any knowledge. She was the wife of Ron Levin’s — what’s believed to be Ron Levin’s best friend — a guy named Len Marmor and who just had no motive to aid me in this at all.
Her testimony was heard by the San Mateo jury and they’ve written about it, how credible and persuasive they found her testimony, because the choice is between either believing Carney, Dean Carney was the chief prosecution witness, a troubled young man who was in a very complex predicament legally and facing all sorts of jail time. Either believing Carney or Karen Marmor so they choose to believe the neutral, independent witness rather than the immunized compromised witness that the prosecution argued as to be the meaning of the to-do list.
So basically if Karen Marmor told the truth then the whole prosecution case is wrong and that there is a witness like Karen Marmor is never mentioned in any of the documentaries or either of the movies or either of the books that are out there on the case.
Joe Hunt discusses the Natural and Probable Consequences Doctrine, which results in “aiders and abettors” of a crime getting the same punishment as perpetrators.
Transcript: I’ve often said to some of the other men in prison that they’re my people, in that these are my peers, this is who I’ve lived with.
I’ve bonded with some of these guys, some of these men who are doing life without and are murderers are my friends.
Now a lot of them are here on this aiding and abetting theory of what they call vicarious liability in the law, and there’s several different ways that vicarious liability can be assigned but one of the principal ones is the aider and abetter rules and there’s also something called the Natural And Probable Consequences Doctrine. So under aiding and abetting if you exhort, encourage, incite or aid someone in a felony and that felony results in somebody’s death, under the felony murder doctrine and under the aider and abetter doctrine, together, stitched together, you end up with the same liability as the actual perpetrator, and this can be a travesty.
It does not, this is not the sort of travesty that occurred in my case, that’s of a different stripe, but it is the travesty that we’re giving, society is giving, handing out “life without” sentences to men who never had a moment where they crossed that line and became intentional murderers.
In fact they never actually chose to do an action that directly resulted in another person’s death. They never curled their finger around the trigger of a revolver or plunged a knife into somebody and so they didn’t have the — they never did anything that manifested the sort of depravity that you would associate with a “life without” sentence. A sort of malice of forethought or maliciousness or wickedness.
They might have done something like got talked into by their homeboys or actively decided to be a getaway driver or they might have been members of a gang and went to back to up a buddy in a confrontation with another gang and then suddenly their buddy pulls a gun and shoots somebody.
Unexpectedly to all of them and they end up doing “life without” time under the Natural And Probable Consequences Doctrine or aiding and abetting gang activity doctrine.
And it’s just so unfair because society is presuming that they are, that they were so given over to malice and depravity that they would kill another person, but really there’s no proof that they ever reached that state in their life. But the prosecution theory is otherwise.
So most civilized countries in the world, they don’t have doctrines like that and they don’t put people away for life without possibility of parole at all. Let alone in an instant where the person actually never chose intentionally.
In this interview, Joe Hunt explains the history of the “Billionaire Boys Club” name. BBC actually stood for “Bombay Bicycle Club,” but, to Joe’s embarrassment, was changed to Billionaire Boys Club in the media.
Transcript: Well I’ve always been embarrassed by the name being in the media. I was a jerk in many ways in my early twenties, but I did not run around with a group of people called myself the Billionaire Boys Club or us the Billionaire Boys Club.
We had a company called BBC Consolidated North America and the initials were taken from something called the Bombay Bicycle Club which was a restaurant with some video games in Chicago, and when Dean and Dan would come out to Chicago, we would go to the Bombay Bicycle Club and I just hung out there. So in a bit of whimsy, we decided to name the first company BBC Consolidated North America.
Now I’ve heard transcripts of some interviews that Tom and David may have given to IPC productions before the 1987 mini series, and told IPC productions that we would sometimes jokingly or boastfully refer to ourselves as the Billionaire Boys Club, but I don’t recall that, I just don’t.
I don’t have any connection with that name until seeing it in print with the media, and I wouldn’t have named us that, and I don’t like the name.
Certainly my own background is not from wealth and privilege. We grew up in Van Nuys, a block away from the Van Nuys Junior High, in a lower middle class area. And you know I remember there were a couple years when my dad was on food stamps. My family was on food stamps, so we were not from a family of riches and privilege.
The name “Billionaire Boys Club” has become associated with scandal, but in this interview, Joe Hunt describes all of the legitimate business enterprises his organization — actually named BBC, which stood for the Bombay Bicycle Club — was pursuing.
We were organized to do legitimate business. Businesses at the outset of BBC ranged from a car company called West Cars of North America that were importing grey market automobiles from Europe so these were cars that were not up to EPA and American Department of Transportation or DOT spec.
We had a warehouse in Gardenia with a lift and a 2 gas analyzer. We had an employee named Frank Rabinsky who was our mechanic and it was our intent to import these cars from Europe and bring them into compliance and sell them. At the time there was a significant difference between what cars were selling for Europe and what luxury cars were selling for in the United States. It was an attempt to arbitrage that difference and secondly we have a company called Microgenesis of North America.
We hired a guy named Eugene Browning to build a sophisticated sort of rock pulverizer called a cyclotron and our goal was and we ultimately did. So some men go under contract with a group that was doing gold mining and wanted to use those same connections with them.
We also had Financial Futures Trading of North America which was a legitimate way to manage money for people by trading spreads in the interest rate futures market at the New York Mercantile Exchange and in the Chicago Mercantile exchange.