New Hearing Ordered for 1 of 2 Men Convicted in Altadena Murder

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A state appeals court panel today ordered a new hearing for one of two men convicted in a 1997 crime spree that ended with an Altadena woman being shot to death outside her home.

The three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal found that Jason Mency “is not entitled to re-sentencing at this stage of the proceedings,'' but that an evidentiary hearing should be held to determine whether he could now be convicted of felony murder as a result of changes in state law since his trial.

Mency and co-defendant La Min Johnson, now both 48, were convicted of Jan. 3, 1997, killing of Marsha Lee Birch, who was shot as she walked to her car.

Mency subsequently told police that he and Johnson had just burglarized a car belonging to Birch's neighbor when the mother of four stepped outside her home.

He said Johnson then stole the woman's purse and shot her with a gun that had been stolen from the neighbor's car. He admitted that he had brought a gun with him, but said it was inside his backpack at the time of the killing, according to the appellate court panel's 17-page ruling.

The two men were arrested hours later.

The gun that had been used to shoot Birch was found inside a swamp cooler in Mency's home, along with two other guns linked to separate crimes, according to the ruling.

Mency -- who was convicted of 60 crimes including Birch's murder -- was sentenced in 1999 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Jurors had deadlocked 9-3 in favor of recommending a death sentence, and prosecutors opted not to retry the penalty phase.

Johnson was also sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after jurors spared him the death penalty following testimony by members of his large, close-knit family about his musical ambitions and his religious upbringing. He was convicted of 19 crimes, including Birch's killing.

A Superior Court judge had denied Mency's recent bid for re-sentencing, with the appellate court panel noting that the defendant's petition seeks to have his “murder conviction vacated and to be re-sentenced on any remaining counts.''

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