CASE SUMMARY – WHAT HAPPENED ON AUGUST 21, 1996, BRANDON HEIN WAS SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE FOR BEING AT THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME
.On May 22, Brandon and 4 other teenagers [Jason Holland, Micah Holland, Tony Milotti, Chris Velardo] went to the backyard clubhouse of Mike McLoren that was locally known as the “Fort” to purchase marijuana. McLoren was known to sell marijuana out of the “Fort” where he and his friends hung out. Mike’s best friend and frequent companion at the “Fort” was Jimmy Farris who was the son of an LAPD officer.
“THE FORT”Most of the teenagers were stoned or drunk. Both Jason Holland and Mike McLoren testified in court that what happened next took approximately 60 seconds.
The “Fort” was a small, dark, homemade structure in McLoren’s back yard. 15-year-old Micah Holland was first into the “Fort.” By the time the others entered words had been exchanged between Micah and McLoren and a fight was already in progress. The bigger McLoren had Micah in a headlock. Micah’s older brother, Jason, jumped in and the melee was underway. During the 60 second fight Jason Holland pulled a 2″ Swiss Army-type knife from a holder on his belt and stabbed at McLoren. Mike’s friend Jimmy Farris jumped in and Jason stabbed him too. Fists swung in the dark and in 60 seconds it was over and Jimmy Farris and Mike McLoren left the “Fort” running to the McLoren house.
Brandon was in the fist fight though he didn’t know who was swinging or why. Tony Miliotti was standing in the doorway. Chris Vellardo was sitting in the truck.
Nothing was taken from the “Fort.” After the fight, Brandon, Jason, Micah, and Tony walked from the “Fort” and joined Vellardo in the truck and drove off. Jason would later tell the incredulous boys, “I think I stabbed them.”
Mike McLoren and Jimmy Farris ran to the house where Jimmy collapsed on the floor. McLoren’s family dialed 911 and called Jimmy’s mother who lived down the street. Although he was taken to the hospital, and the Farris family was not told of their son’s death until hours later, Mrs. Farris believes her son was dead before she arrived. The emergency room doctor who treated him would write to the Judge that “Jimmy Farris did not die of grossly brutal wounds. A single small puncture wound penetrated his chest and into his heart. Had that stab wound been one inch further to the left, he perhaps would still be alive today . . ” Because of the severity of the stab wound to the heart most of the bleeding was internal.
The DA immediately began to portray all of the boys as “gang members” – something for which there was absolutely no evidence – and the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department closed ranks around their own. Although Brandon was ready for trial he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial and forced to wait in Los Angeles County Jail almost a year until his case was heard, combined by the court with that of the others so that all were tried as one.
Although Jason Holland took the stand and claimed full responsibility for his actions, the District Attorney, reeling from a series of public humiliations including loss of the OJ trial, charged all the boys under California’s felony murder rule. Under the felony murder rule everyone is caught up in the same net whether they had any culpability in the crime, foreknowledge, or even knowledge that a crime had been committed. All the DA needed to do was convince the jury that even although nothing had been taken, the boys intended to steal and not buy pot.
Although he changed his story many times, by the time of the trial McLoren’s testimony had become that the boys came to steal, not buy his marijuana. McLoren was the sole witness claiming the boys came to steal, and for his testimony he was granted immunity.
From the beginning the DA effectively used the media to plant the idea in the minds of potential jurors that this was a gang killing, even though any gang testimony was so flimsy as to not be allowed in court. The jurors believed McLoren’s testimony and found the boys guilty of attempted robbery, which meant they automatically ALL became guilty of murder under the Felony Murder Rule. The LAPD, from Chief Willie Williams on down, closed ranks to pressure the Judge Lawrence J. Mira for a harsh sentence.
WHAT HAPPENED – A MORE DETAILED DISCUSSIONThe trial took 10 weeks and the trial testimony is over 40 volumes (11,000 pages). This is a summary of what happened. Since the case is currently under appeal Brandon cannot comment on the accuracy of what has been written.
On May 22, 1995, Brandon Hein admittedly was headed down a very treacherous path. An “A” student through grade school – adolescence, junior high, and changes in family structure combined to put pressures on Hein which he relieved with alcohol. He started drinking in ninth grade on Christmas break and kept right on drinking heavily. He dropped out of a good high school and chose an alternative school which unfortunately gave him more free time, more time to get drunk with his friends. Yet he was able to function, continue his education, hold down a part-time job, and for the most part conceal his alcoholism from his family. Hein, just 18, and his friend Micah Holland, 15, were bored and looking to party. After calling a few friends who weren’t home, they called Chris Velards,18, who had a pick up truck and was with his friend Tony Miliotti, 17.
Earlier that day Velardo had visited his friend Mike McLoren, 17, at McLoren’s backyard clubhouse/bedroom known by local teens as “The Fort,” a pretentious name for a skuzzy 11X12 foot shack thrown together out of plywood. “The Fort” was a hangout for McLoren and his upper middle class friends, a place for unsupervised “parties” and smoking dope. McLoren was the “dope dealer” as well, providing marijuana for his friends who in turn paid for their share of the drugs. According to the THOUSAND OAKS STAR, “McLoren testified that he sold marijuana to students in the Conejo Valley area, and had as many as 30 regular clients . . . ” Velardo had stopped by the Fort, but finding his estranged girl friend there, left, arranging to come back later in the afternoon to get drugs. Brandon and Micah Holland, Velardo, and Miliotti then stopped at another friend’s home where they met up with Jason Holland and started drinking “shots” of alcohol. By later afternoon these teens had consumed so much alcohol it is a wonder they could navigate, much less drive, or remember.
It was dark inside the fort, painted black, lit only by the light coming through one cloth-covered Plexiglas window. The events of the next minute have been played and replayed. Since everyone was high, including drug dealer McLoren, the state’s only witness to the events that took place inside “The Fort”, it is unlikely that anybody knows or remembers what really happened. Micah Holland and Mike McLoren got into an altercation which instantly escalated into a drunken brawl. Drug dealer McLoren beat the 15-year-old Holland on the head until Holland’s older brother, Jason, jumped into the fight. and the neighbor, Jimmy Farris, jumped in to aid McLoren. Punches were flying. At one point in the fight Jimmy Farris turns to the physically smaller Brandon Hein and grabbed him by the shoulders with such force as to knock them both down. Farris landed on the couch and Hein on the floor. Hein jumped up and threw a couple of punches which Farris blocked with his hands. Then, as quickly as the fight began, it was over. McLoren will testify in court that the fight took only 1 minute.
Both sides withdrew to lick their wounds. Farris and McLoren ran to McLoren’s house; while Hein, the two Holland brothers, and Miliotti got in Velardo’s truck and drove away. Nothing was taken. It would seem like a brief, backyard brawl except that within an hour Jimmy Farris was dead and McLoren was in the hospital.
When they were driving away reliving the fight, Jason Holland announced, as he pulled a 2″ pocket knife from a belt holder, that he “thinks he stabbed ’em.” The others, drunk with alcohol, listened in shock and drunken disbelief. Jason opened the knife and showed a thin line of what he claimed was blood. The others, seeing this remained skeptical .
Nancy McLoren, a teacher, was grading papers when Mike and Jimmy burst into the kitchen and announced they had been stabbed. She called 911 and summoned her neighbor, Judie Farris. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officers responded almost immediately. Jimmy Farris lay collapsed on the floor hemorrhaging internally with his mother at his side. Jimmy was rushed to nearby Westlake Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 9:05 PM. Mike McLoren, the drug dealer, was taken to UCLA Medical Center with a lacerated liver and minor wounds on his upper body.
The emergency room physician who treated Jimmy Farris, Dr. Barry Pollack, MD, later wrote Judge Mira, arguing for leniency in sentencing, stating,
“Life and death in a case of trauma is often a case of moments and millimeters. Jimmy Farris did not die of grossly brutal wounds “Only a single puncture wound penetrated his chest and into his heart .Had that stab wound been one inch further to the left, he perhaps would still be alive today — and just as important, four other young men would not be on the verge of losing their life’s potential…Fate has indeed dealt Jimmy Farris and his four young attackers a cruel blow…it would be a grave injustice if all these young men — certainly those that did not wield the knife — were given life sentences.”
At 3 am the next morning Brandon Hein and Micah Holland were routed out of bed at Hein’s home and arrested for murder. Chris Velardo turned himself in the next day. Two weeks later Tony Miliotti turned himself in. Jason Holland, who actually stabbed the boys, hid out for three weeks before eventually turning himself in to authorities.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office was reeling from a series of high profile debacles including charging the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, with child abuse, yet being unable to provide enough proof to bring Jackson to trial; the failure of the first, costly Menendez brothers trial and the necessity of a costly retrial; and being humiliated around the world by the O. J. Simpson trial. Although hundreds of black and Hispanic kids are killed in Los Angeles and there are no convictions, the DA’s office saw the death of a Los Angeles Police Detective’s son in Agoura, presumably at the hands of middle class kids, as having all the makings of a high-profile trial that would polish the badly tarnished image of the DA in the light of voters eyes. They knew instinctively they were dealing with middle class families who couldn’t afford OJ.’s “dream team” of lawyers. Immediately they went for a “slam dunk” and began trying the case before the public in the press.
Jimmy Farris was always referred to as “the son of a Los Angeles police officer.” Before they even knew what happened, robbery was introduced in the press as a motive. Originally McLoren testified the boys had come to rob him of his electronic equipment. Only when police assured him he would not get into trouble for dealing drugs because they wanted to “get” these guys, did McLoren change his story, and claim the young men came to rob, not buy, drugs. The robbery angle conveniently opened a magic door for the prosecution, enabling them to insure a continuing high profile for this case and to go for “murder with special circumstances.” Originally, according to the LOS ANGELES TIMES (6-8-95), the prosecutors were literally trying to go for “the kill”: “Prosecutors say they could seek the death penalty because the slaying was committed during a robbery in which a deadly weapon was used.” The “deadly weapon” being the 2″ pocketknife.
Knowing that gangs strike fear into the heart of every middle class, suburban resident, the prosecution cleverly introduced the gang angle describing these kids as “gang wantabes” and pointing out Brandon’s “gang attire” of a baggy shirt, low slung pants, and boxer shorts. They conveniently ignored that Brandon was routed out of bed at 3 am and hustled off to jail and wasn’t dressing for the Oscars, and they ignored that he was wearing what most of the stylish young people in Agoura were wearing. Had people really been concerned about gang invasion of Agoura, they might have checked out the activity in the bordering town of Calabasas surrounding the Death Row records leased estate of the late rapper Tupac Shakur. But Tupac was a hot property with money and it was easier to focus attention on “gang wantabes.”
Brandon Hein was the first of the five to have his photo splashed across the paper, and the first to be charged with murder, attempted murder and robbery. Brandon’s attorney, Jill Lansing, argued Hein should not face trial because there was no proof there was a robbery, nor that he had stabbed anyone. Municipal Court Judge James A. Albracht bought Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Semow’s argument that Hein had aided and abetted the other four suspects in trying to rob the fort and stabbing McLoren and Farris, opening the door to the Felony Murder Rule.
Originally intended to apply to bank robbers, the Felony Murder Rule assumes that if you are committing a felony with a weapon, that you intend to use it, otherwise you wouldn’t have it. This neatly deals with the claim, “But I didn’t mean to shoot anybody.” Further, anyone who participates in the robbery, whether they do the actual killing or not, is assumed to be guilty of murder. All the prosecutor had to allege was that the boys went to the Fort to steal, not buy, drugs, and suddenly the 2″ pocket knife became a “deadly weapon” and all of the boys were guilty.
Although Brandon was ready for trial 60 days after arraignment, the judge lumped all of the boys together and Brandon was forced to wait 10 months in prison until the other attorneys were all ready and the case could go to trial. Instead of one attorney coordinating defense, there were five attorneys, working for four different clients, trying to coordinate a common strategy. Every mistake the other attorneys made reflected poorly on Brandon.
The trial lasted ten weeks and filled over 40 volumes of court transcripts. During the trial only Jason Holland testified. Although Brandon wanted to testify, his lawyer advised against it. As an 18-year-old on trial for his life, Brandon was not comfortable going against his attorney’s advice and kept quiet.
The state’s only evidence was the testimony of the admitted drug dealer, Mike McLoren, who had just smoked some potent marijuana at the time of the incident, and had given various renditions to police of what happened, including some while under the influence of illegal drugs. There was no physical evidence. McLoren had claimed that Micah Holland had tried to open the drawer in which he kept his drugs, yet no fingerprints were taken. There was no evidence that anything had been taken. No weapon was found, although, incredibly, the judge allowed the prosecution to introduce a large wooden “model” of the 2″ pocketknife, misleading the jury. The only evidence against the the young men that they intended to steal was the testimony of the drug dealer, McLoren. During the trial, Jason Holland, the young man who pulled the knife and stabbed Jimmy Farris and Mike McLoren, admitted his guilt and stated that he bore full responsibility and that the others, including Hein, had nothing to do with Jimmy’s death. Never-the-less the jury, a little over a year after the fight at the Fort, convicted Jason and Micah Holland, Tony Miliotti, and Brandon Hein of first-degree murder with special circumstance. The jury in choosing to convict all of “reckless disregard for life”, including those like Brandon who just happened to be in the Fort when another pulled a knife, opened the door to a sentence of life without possibility of parole.
In pre-sentencing hearings the attorneys made valiant attempts to argue why the young men, because of their youth and lack of previous serious run-ins with the law, should receive some leniency in sentencing and not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Brandon had no previous criminal record, no history of violence, and never had been in juvenile hall. Judge Lawrence J. Mira was pressured by the Los Angeles Police Department to impose the maximum sentence. Ads appeared in the LAPD union newspaper urging officers to pressure the judge. Although the incident took place outside the jurisdiction of LAPD (although Agoura is in Los Angeles County it is in the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department not the City of Los Angeles Police Department), Chief Willie Williams, wrote a letter to the judge urging that the young men all be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Read the Police Chief’s Letter to the Judge in the Right SidebarJudge Lawrence J. Mira was not lenient, and sentenced Jason Holland, the young man who did the stabbing, Brandon Hein, and Tony Miliotti to life without the possibility of parole. Micah Holland, because of his age, received 25 years to life. Chris Velardo, with whom the judge’s son used to play, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received a lighter sentence, which has since been reduced. Although the judge had specifically excluded testimony which attempted unsuccessfully to portray the young men as members of a gang, frustrating the DA’s gang-angle, the judge himself in sentencing the young men asserted that they had formed their own gang. Since no evidence was introduced to prove this, this must have been a conclusion the judge reached on his own before the trial began. He claimed Brandon showed no remorse, conveniently ignoring the letter Brandon had written to the judge expressing his remorse. Judge Mira asserted that his sentence was not so unduly harsh as to “shock the conscience” of the community.
According to Judge Mira, “[Brandon Hein] chose to hang with a group of teenagers who essentially became predators . . . to demonstrate how callous and vicious and sociopathic he can be in combination with other people. I believe this makes him a danger to the community. I find that the imposition of life without possibility of parole as to [Brandon Hein] is not disproportionate to his culpability. It does not shock the conscience, and it does not offend common notions of dignity.”
Read about the Judge and “common notions of dignity” in the Right Sidebar WHAT DOES “LIFE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE” MEAN FOR BRANDON?It means life without the possibility of parole. It means Brandon will die in prison. It means that although Charles Manson, convicted of the grisly killing of actress Sharon Tate and six others, is eligible for a parole hearing every five years, Brandon Hein, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time, will never be eligible for a parole hearing! It means there is no way out other than to have the appeals court order some retrial or amendment of the sentence, or to have the Governor intervene.
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