OAKLAND, Calif. - New Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price is drawing criticism for her decision to toss special circumstances against a man charged in three slayings, including that of 9-year-old Michaela Garecht in Hayward back in 1988.
David Misch, already a convicted killer, is awaiting trial on charges he kidnapped and killed Michaela from a Hayward market, as well as for allegedly killing two women in Fremont two years earlier.
But just a week after taking office, Price has dropped all special circumstances in the three killings, including one alleging multiple murder. Those enhancements to the murder charges were lodged by her predecessor, Nancy O'Malley.
This means if convicted of three counts of murder, Misch will no longer face life in prison without parole or the death penalty, which is already on hold California.
"It's a complete and total betrayal," said child safety advocate Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was kidnapped in Petaluma and killed in 1993.
"What is it exactly you're getting when you elect officials that advocate on behalf of wanton criminals and people that murder children and women?" Klaas asked.
Misch's defense attorney Ernie Castillo said his client is not guilty of the killings and that evidence shows other people are responsible.
"Each case relies heavily on questionable forensic tactics," Castillo said. "Third-party culpability evidence for all the crimes charged is overwhelming gin these cases and was acknowledged extensively by the judge who heard the preliminary hearing."
He said Price's decision "doesn’t surprise me. In fact, it acknowledges the weakness in their cases."
Michaela's body hasn't been found. Critics said tossing the special circumstances also removes leverage the district attorney could have had in trying to find her remains.
Retired Fremont police Lt. Chuck Uhler was the lead detective in the 1986 killings of Michelle Xavier, 18, and Jennifer Duey, 20, for which Misch has also been charged.
"I think there's exceptions to every rule, and if anybody ever deserved maximum punishment, it's David Misch," Uhler said.
KTVU legal analyst Michael Cardoza, a former prosecutor who is now a defense attorney said, "This is reckless, this is stunning to me."
Cardoza said it's not a good idea for a DA to take any punishment off the table from the get-go, especially when Michaela's body hasn't been found.
"It could be a bargaining chip for later," said Cardoza, adding, "This is the poster case for putting someone in prison forever, to keep him away from society."