A San Francisco judge resentenced Mayor London Breed’s brother, Napoleon Brown, to a shorter prison term on Monday in a more than two decades-long case involving a woman's death on the Golden Gate Bridge after a string of robberies.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy ruled from the bench in a decision that could see Brown released within the year. The case has captured public attention because of its links to San Francisco’s mayor and prior discussions over potential conflicts of interest inside the District Attorney’s office.
“Mr. Brown is entitled to a full resentencing,” Conroy said before handing down a revised sentence of 31 years and four months based on Brown's convictions for robbery and other offenses. Brown was originally sentenced to 44 years for an involuntary manslaughter conviction that has since been overturned.
Brown, who has been in prison for nearly 22 years, could be out in fewer than 12 months based on the new sentencing and credits for time served.
Before announcing his sentence, Conroy said he could not release Brown immediately on time served because he could not ignore his criminal history, adding that, in this particular case, someone died.
Despite not getting everything his client had asked for, the ruling was a victory for Brown, his lawyer Marc Zilversmit said.
“We are happy that the sentence was reduced by 13 years. We’re disappointed it wasn't reduced further,” Zilversmit said.
Brown was sentenced in 2005 following a conviction for murder, carjacking and a string of robberies in 2000 that resulted in his girlfriend’s death on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lenties White was hit and killed by a drunk driver after she exited a car she had been driving on June 19, 2000. Prosecutors had alleged that Brown was in the car and had pushed White out of it.
In a retrial granted because of ineffective counsel, Brown pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter. Last year, Brown asked the court to reconsider his sentencing.
When Brown was sentenced, state law allowed first-degree murder convictions if someone died during a felony crime, regardless of any intent to kill. California later narrowed its definition of felony murder, which allowed for resentencing petitions like Brown’s.
Prosecutors have opposed Brown’s bid for a new sentence.
“We think he was the actual killer,” Ana Gonzalez, chief assistant district attorney, said in an earlier hearing. “If a person throws someone in front of a train, they are the actual killer.”
Gonzalez said that Brown has yet to take responsibility for his actions on the Golden Gate Bridge where White was killed.
On Monday, Gonzalez read a witness statement from a man who Brown robbed in the Marina on the day White was killed.
“I ask that you please not release him, on behalf of me and my family. I fear for my life,” Romero Angel Saucedo wrote in the statement.
Brown wrote in a letter to the court that he understands his actions were harmful. In numerous letters, Brown’s family and friends have argued that he was a changed man, Zilversmit said.
Under the previous district attorney, Chesa Boudin, prosecutors had indicated they would not oppose the resentencing.
DA Brooke Jenkins recused herself from the case over potential conflicts of interest. Requests by the defense for the California Attorney General’s Office to take over the prosecution were declined because the state said the DA’s firewalls were enough to protect the integrity of the case.