A state appeals court panel Friday ordered a hearing to determine whether to vacate a man’s second-degree murder conviction for leading police on a high-speed chase which ended with a fiery crash that killed a woman in the Mission Hills area more than two decades ago.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal sent the case against Christopher DeHuff back to the trial court for a hearing to determine whether to vacate his murder conviction and to re-sentence him based on a recent change in state law that applies to defendants convicted in some murder cases.
DeHuff is serving a potential life prison term in connection with the Oct. 14, 1997, crash that killed Linda Wageman, 44, and injured her adult daughter, who was rescued by police officers.
He led police on a chase — with speeds reaching about 77 mph — in which he ran a red light and collided with Wageman’s van at the intersection of Lassen Street and Sepulveda Boulevard, with fire preventing officers from removing her from the van, according to the appellate court panel’s ruling.
The appellate court justices noted that the “prosecution has the burden of establishing that DeHuff is ineligible for relief beyond a reasonable doubt” at the new hearing. A judge denied his petition for re-sentencing, ruling last year that he was ineligible for re-sentencing.
The panel found that there is “substantial evidence in the record to support a finding that DeHuff committed second-degree murder” under a theory of implied malice — a valid theory — but that jurors were also presented with a second theory under which he could not now be convicted and that there is “no way to ascertain from the record upon which theory the jury based its finding of guilt.”
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