Fate of man convicted of manslaughter in Penn Valley shooting death in limbo
Daniel Devencenzi, convicted in the 2014 shooting death of a marijuana grow caretaker, has about six months to live.
His wife, Rhonda Devencenzi, said a doctor gave her the prognosis weeks ago. The 34-year-old Daniel Devencenzi isn’t undergoing chemotherapy and can’t move without having pain. He’s confined to a bed in a state facility.
“We go see him every weekend,” Rhonda Devencenzi said. “He’s just about at the point where hospice would kick in.”
Rhonda Devencenzi and a doctor have requested compassionate release for her husband. It’s one possible method her husband could be freed before his death.
Another method comes from a change in the state’s felony murder law. That change means only someone’s killer, or a person who played a significant role in another’s death, can be convicted of murder, or manslaughter in Devencenzi’s case.
Prosecutors have said another man, not Devencenzi, shot and killed Isaac Zafft. Devencenzi is serving 11 years on the manslaughter charge.
Kenneth Tribby, Devencenzi’s defense attorney, filed a motion last month in Nevada County Superior Court asking for a re-sentencing under the new law. Tribby in his motion says prosecutors agree.
“My position is I think that the law as written applies to both these defendants,” Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh said. “Judge (Tom) Anderson has a particular view of this law.”
Devencenzi and Nathan Philbrook, 34, pleaded guilty in April 2018 to manslaughter in connection with the 2014 shooting death.
Philbrook’s attorney, David Alkire, filed a motion in January asking his client be re-sentenced under the change in the felony murder law. Anderson denied the request, saying a jury could have convicted Philbrook of first- or second-degree murder.
Anderson’s decision was appealed to the Third District Court of Appeal. Philbrook continues to serve a 23-year sentence on manslaughter and attempted second-degree robbery charges as the appeal progresses.
The third man linked by authorities to Zafft’s death — 29-year-old Finley Fultz — has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge.
Fultz late last year went to trial, which ended in a mistrial after Anderson found problems with the prosecution. Anderson in December dismissed Fultz’s case, citing prosecutor error.
Anderson’s decision in Fultz’s case also rests with the Third District Court of Appeal.
Anderson has made no decision on Devencenzi’s request for re-sentencing. Prosecutors have until early May to respond to Tribby’s motion.
Different decisions by various judges on the new felony murder law have led local attorneys to surmise the issue likely will be decided by the state Supreme Court.
“It’s apparent that the California Supreme Court is going to have a number of issues to sort out before we know what Senate Bill 1437 means,” Alkire said, referring to the felony murder law.
An Orange County judge earlier this year ruled that the change to the felony murder law violates the state constitution — a move that helps set the stage for a Supreme Court review.
Alkire said a challenge to the law won’t hasten a resolution in the courts. However, Walsh said he thinks the Supreme Court will weigh in between six and 12 months from now.
“And the reason being — it’s an issue affecting people across the state,” Walsh said.
The prosecutor said he’s heard anecdotally that some 1,400 people across the state could be affected by the change to the felony murder rule.
Devencenzi’s time is limited. That’s one reason why his wife is pursuing compassionate release for her husband.
Compassionate release is possible for inmates who meet certain requirements under the law. Rhonda Devencenzi said both she and a doctor have written letters asking for her husband’s release. That was over two months ago.
“We’re just waiting on the process,” she said.
That process isn’t guaranteed. If approved at the state level, the choice would rest with local Judge Tom Anderson — the same judge who dismissed Fultz’s murder case and denied Philbrook’s request to be re-sentenced under the new felony murder law change.
Compassionate release may be a non-starter. Luis Patino, spokesman with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the Classification Services Unit — which handles compassionate release — has no record of a request for Daniel Devencenzi.
Rhonda Devencenzi expressed frustration with Tribby, her husband’s attorney. She said he’s been difficult to contact.
Tribby said he doesn’t think Daniel Devencenzi’s condition will hasten the legal process.
“If any of them can get him home, that’s what I want,” Rhonda Devencenzi said. “There’s no hope for him getting better.”
Contact Alan Riquelmy at 530-477-4239 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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