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Appeal Filed in Debi Zuver Case

On July 8th, appellate attorney Herb Blanck filed the opening brief in Debi Zuver's attempt to overturn her Draconian 21-year prison sentence for manslaughter in the shooting death of her batterer, Kim Garloff.

Debi shot Garloff November 23, 2000 after he'd illegally entered her apartment, beaten and threatened to kill her if she didn't agree to lie for him in his upcoming drug manufacturing trial.

This followed nearly two years of rapes, repeated battering and death threats. Just moments before she shot him, Debi states that Garloff growled, "Get me my Central California Women's Facilitygod-damned gun." In a recent interview, Debi said, "I know that if I hadn't shot Kim that night, I wouldn't be alive today."

Originally charged with murder, Debi Zuver pled no contest to voluntary manslaughter "without malice and upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion." On January 7th of this year, Judge Elliot Daum handed down the shocking 21-year sentence. She is currently serving her sentence at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.

The sentencing appeal is based on three basic issues: ineffective assistance of counsel, abuse of discretion by Judge Daum, and denial of due process in the conduct of the sentencing hearing.

The due process claim is based on the fundamental unfairness of the sentencing hearing, into which a wealth of unreliable and incomplete information was allowed, as well as the court's failure to consider the circumstances of the shooting or Debi's character and "propensities" (i.e., likelihood to re-offend).

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Public Defender Steve Fabian is cited for a number of errors in his representation of Debi's defense. Certainly the most damaging was his refusal to allow Debi to talk with the probation officer preparing the pre-sentencing report – a report that makes sentencing recommendations that are almost always followed by the judge.

As a result, absent from that report is extensive information on the violence and threats Debi suffered at Garloff's hands or any explanation other than the prosecution's for what happened on the night of the shooting.

Fabian also failed to object to numerous errors and omissions in the pre-sentencing report and in both the prosecution's "state-ment in aggravation" (i.e., reasons for imposing the maximum sentence) and closing arguments.

In his closing, Deputy DA Chuck Arden viciously attacked Debi, the legally accepted existence of Battered Women's Syndrome, and the Purple Berets. (At one point Arden spat out the word "bitch" as if he'd been waiting years for an opportunity to say it out loud in court.) Fabian made no objections.

Abuse of Judicial Discretion
Judge Daum's errors include rejecting out of hand substantial evidence that Debi suffered from Battered Women's Syndrome, that she was remorseful and unlikely to re-offend, and her claim that she was acting in defense of her own life.

As well, the appeal cites a sort of double-jeopardy charge that Daum incorrectly considered issues of premeditation even though there is no element of pre-meditation in the manslaughter charge Debi pled to. Court rules demand sentencing be based only on the crime the defendant is convicted of.

Daum also doubly weighed the fact that a gun was used in the homicide, first to justify the highest possible sentence on manslaughter, and then to add another 10 years to the sentence for the use of a gun in commission of the crime, again the maximum sentence allowable.

Judge Daum's sentencing decision in the Zuver case raises even more questions in light of his recent defiance of Governor Davis' near-blanket denial of parole applications. Interestingly, the two cases Daum has chosen in the legitimate fight against unjust parole denials have made poster boys of Jimmy Sole and Raymond Skinner, both serving life sentences for murdering their wives or ex-wives.

Sole tracked down his ex-wife and shot her to death in a Petaluma bar in 1979. Skinner murdered his wife in a Santa Rosa motel room in 1983, breaking a bottle over her head, then using it to slit her throat.

January 2003


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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