A Man Was Unjustly Sentenced With A Second Degree Murder Charge. The Charge Was Changed 13 Years Later.

A man who was sentenced to serve 16 years to life for a fatal accident that happened in 2006 was recently released from prison.

According to the Orange County Register, in July of 2006, Cole Wilkins was driving a truck with stolen kitchen appliances that were unsecured in the bed of the truck. One of the stoves fell off the truck onto the 91 Freeway in Anaheim, causing off-duty Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy David Piquette, 34, to crash his vehicle into a cement truck. Piquette died as a result of the injuries he suffered in the crash.

Wilkins was convicted of second-degree murder, and Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals sentenced him with 16 years to life in prison in 2017. In January of this year, a panel of three judges in the 4th District of Appeals in Santa Ana found that Wilkins’ actions did not contain the implied malice necessary for a second-degree murder conviction. Instead, the judges applied a sentence of manslaughter to Wilkins’ conviction.

Because a manslaughter conviction has a sentence of four years imprisonment, and Wilkins had already served 13 years in the case, he was released from prison on Friday, March 6th.

According to court documents, a California Highway Patrol Area Supervisor was found to have rewritten a field report after rewriting the original report that was taken at the accident scene. The CHP Area Supervisor blamed Deputy Piquette for the accident. An Orange County Superior Court Judge concluded that the CHP Area Supervisor had committed serious misconduct regarding the case.

The altered report likely led to Wilkins’ initial conviction of first-degree murder for which he was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. The conviction was overturned in a California Supreme Court due to faulty jury instructions. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office attempted to retry Wilkins on the same first-degree murder charge, but it was reduced to the charge of second-degree murder.
With the reduced charge of manslaughter, Judge Gregg Prickett ordered Wilkins to report to parole authorities. Because Wilkins had already served 13 years of the 16 years in prison, the time served will be applied to the length of time for his parole.

 

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