Nevada County judge denies request to reduce sentence in marijuana grow manslaughter case
January 9, 2019
A Nevada County judge has denied a request to reduce the prison sentence for a man serving 23 years on a manslaughter charge, leading a defense attorney to appeal.
Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson ruled last week that a jury could have found that Nathan Philbrook "was the actual killer," helped the killer or played a significant role in the 2014 death of Isaac Zafft at a Penn Valley marijuana grow. Anderson rejected arguments that Philbrook, 34, deserves a reduced sentence under a newly passed law, and denied his request to be re-sentenced on an attempted robbery charge only.
Defense attorney David Alkire, who represents Philbrook, has appealed to the Third District Court of Appeal. Alkire said the timeline of that appeal is unknown.
"Ambiguities have to be made clear before we know exactly what it means," Alkire said of the new law. "It means a great deal to Mr. Philbrook."
Philbrook and Daniel Devencenzi, 34, pleaded guilty in April to manslaughter. Finley Fultz, who prosecutors said was the triggerman, had a mistrial in October. Anderson last month dismissed the 29-year-old's murder case, a decision that's been appealed.
Alkire in his petition asking for a lower sentence states Philbrook killed no one and didn't help Fultz kill Zafft. The change to the law means Philbrook couldn't have been convicted of murder, and is now eligible to have his manslaughter plea discarded.
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A charge of attempted robbery, to which Philbrook also pleaded, would remain. Philbrook could then receive a maximum five-year prison sentence on that charge, Alkire states.
Anderson disagreed. He called Philbrook the main organizer of an attempt to rob a marijuana grow, saying he was armed at the time.
"He instigated the invasion into the building that awoke the victim," Anderson writes. "Mr. Philbrook aimed his firearm using a laser scope to shine the scope light onto the victim. This action caused the victim to flee from him into the path of the oncoming armed accomplice who shot and killed Isaac Zafft, during the attempted commission of the robbery.
"Based upon the trial testimony it would not be unreasonable for a jury to find that defendant Philbrook could be found guilty of first or second degree murder," the judge continues.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.