MARTINEZ (CBS SF) — A California man whose murder conviction was vacated following passage of a law changing the felony murder rule walked free Friday after serving 15 years of a 25 years-to-life sentence.
A judge order the release of Adnan Khan, who in 2003 participated in the robbery of a marijuana dealer. He was convicted of murder after his accomplice stabbed the marijuana dealer to death and spent 15 years in San Quentin State Prison.
On January 1, Senate Bill 1437 went into effect, limiting murder convictions to those who actually commit the killings. Until the law was passed, anyone who participated in a crime that led to a death could be convicted of murder even if the person had no role in the killing. Khan is the first convict to be released under the new law, which was inspired by his case.
Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Laurel Brady on Friday overturned Khan’s felony murder conviction and resentenced him on his robbery conviction.
Upon leaving the Martinez County Jail as a free man Friday afternoon, Khan told reporters he feels the new law is just and would continue to hold people accountable for their crimes.
“I did commit a robbery nearly 16 years ago and I am absolutely guilty of that and I feel like did deserve a punishment for my actions,” said Khan. “The reason I feel like it’s just is because the law was overturned by the Assembly and Senate and now says it no longer applies, that a person that was liable for the felony, in my case the robbery, is not guilty of the murder anymore.”
Khan’s attorney Kate Chatfield, policy director for the advocacy group Restore Justice which Khan co-founded, said SB 1437 is unusual in that it provides retroactive relief for unjust sentencing.
“So in other words, what the legislature and the governor are saying is that, if a law is unjust when it was applied, when it’s applied tomorrow, it was unjust when it was applied yesterday.” said Chatfield. “Mr. Khan was an accomplice to an underlying felony. He has never disputed that … However, he did not murder anyone. He did not intend for anyone to die. He did not do anything to the victim in this case. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.”
In a blog post, Khan described what happened at the time.
The plan was for me to grab some marijuana and run. No weapons were to be used. If so, I would not have agreed to it. I thought no one would call the police for stealing their weed, and that would be the extent of the harm. I never imagined a death.
In our fake drug deal plan, someone I knew only in passing was recruited as the getaway driver. After I grabbed the weed, it appeared to me the driver began punching the young man. I got out of the car and yelled, “What the heck are you doing? Get back in the car!” I would soon find out he used a knife. Much later, I learned he was schizophrenic and hadn’t taken his medications.
As for me, I was 18, homeless, abandoned by my parents. I had dropped out of high school and used marijuana regularly. Yet I was basically a good kid—I respected my elders, made people laugh and welcomed those who felt left out. I was smart and had ambition. I didn’t yell or have violent outbursts. I had never held a gun.
The post goes on to describe his conviction on murder charges, being sent to a maximum security unit in San Quentin after his conviction, and his and his family’s efforts to overturn or appeal his conviction.
Supporters of SB 1437 say as many as 800 inmates with murder convictions may be eligible for reduced sentences.
“There’s a lot more men and women inside that are just like me and are ready to come out here and taste the clean air just like me,” said Khan.
The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office said it did not oppose the Khan’s petition to have him resentenced under the new law.
“Under the law, the Judge determined, and my office agreed, that Khan was entitled to the relief he was seeking. As such, the court was required to vacate the murder conviction and resentence Khan for robbery,” District Attorney Diana Becton said in a prepared statement. “Today’s outcome in no way undermines the severity of the crime, the unfortunate loss of life, or the trauma inflicted upon the family of the victim. As the criminal justice system continues to evolve, we must collectively continue to find the balance between public safety, accountability, fundamental fairness under the law, and the rights of victims. As prosecutors, we too must adapt our sense of fundamental fairness to reflect what is right, and what is just.”