A state appeals court panel Tuesday conditionally reversed the murder conviction of one of three young men convicted in the 2008 murder of a woman who was shot while calling 911 to report a break-in at her Covina Hills home.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered the case against Christopher Stratis — who was 17 at the time of Michelle Hsu’s killing — to be sent to a juvenile court for a hearing, if requested by the prosecution, on whether his case should be handled there or in adult court as a result of a voter-approved ballot measure that resulted in a change in state law.
A directive issued by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón shortly after he was sworn into office last December vowed that the office “will immediately end the practice of sending youth to the adult court system” and that cases will “proceed to adjudication or disposition within the existing boundaries of juvenile jurisdiction.”
In its 13-page ruling, the appellate court justices noted, “If no motion for a transfer hearing is filed, or if a transfer hearing is held and the juvenile court determines it would not transfer defendant to a court of criminal jurisdiction, defendant’s criminal murder conviction will be deemed to be a juvenile adjudication as of the date of the juvenile court’s determination. In the event the conviction is deemed a juvenile adjudication, the juvenile court shall then hold a disposition hearing and impose an appropriate disposition within the court’s discretion.”
Stratis, now 30, was convicted of first-degree murder along with Christopher Kevin Santana and Victor Maurtua in the March 19, 2008, shooting death of Hsu, who was shot three times by Santana while she was speaking to a 911 operator.
The murder charge included the special circumstance of murder during the commission of a burglary.
Stratis was initially to life in prison without the possibility of parole, then subsequently re-sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of two teenagers sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Santana and Maurtua, who were 19 and 18 respectively at the time of the crime, are serving life prison terms without the possibility of parole.