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Suspect in California woman’s dismemberment did not serve full prison term, Placer DA says

Sacramento Bee 8/8/2022 Rosalio Ahumada, The Sacramento Bee
Pamela Garrett May was found dead, her body dismembered, on July 19, 2022, at her home in the 5200 block of Field Street in North Highlands, California. © Rosalio Ahumada/The Sacramento Bee/TNS Pamela Garrett May was found dead, her body dismembered, on July 19, 2022, at her home in the 5200 block of Field Street in North Highlands, California.

Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire on Monday questioned the early prison release of a Sacramento man accused of murder and burglary in the death of an elderly woman whose body was found dismembered last month in her North Highlands home.

“Our community wants to know why this man was released after serving less than half of his prison sentence,” Gire said in a news release. “Our office, along with the Amador County District Attorney’s Office, twice opposed the release of this dangerous inmate. These early-release decisions are having deadly impacts on our communities, and our residents need to know how and why these decisions are being made.”

Pamela Garrett May, 77, was found dead on the morning of July 19 at her home in the 5200 block of Field Street. Her body was “dismembered beyond recognition,” Sacramento County sheriff’s officials said. It’s likely she had been killed days before her body was found.

Darnell Erby, 44, of Sacramento, was arrested later on the same day authorities found May’s body. Erby is accused of murder and burglary in connection with May’s death, charges that make the case eligible for the death penalty. The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office has not yet decided whether it will seek the death penalty.

May lived alone after her husband was moved to a care home, because he had extensive medical problems, her friends and neighbors said. She lived in a house with boarded-up windows and a front yard littered with garbage that could give others the idea her home was abandoned or at least vacant.

Erby was convicted of home burglary in September 1997 in Sacramento County and in August 2017 in Placer County, according to a criminal complaint filed July 21 in Sacramento Superior Court.

Gire said Erby was convicted and sentenced in August 2017 in both Placer and Amador Counties to serve over 12 years in prison. Erby was was eligible for early parole in 2018 under the state’s non-violent early parole program.

The District Attorney’s Offices in Placer and Amador counties wrote letters, arguing against Erby’s prison release in 2018 and again in 2021, according to Gire. Erby was denied parole in 2018 and again in 2020. Gire said Erby was released from prison in 2021.

In a letter sent on Monday to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Kathleen Allison, Gire asked:

▪ What was the process in determining the release of inmate Erby despite the opposition of both the Placer and Amador County District Attorney’s Offices?

▪ What specific rule or regulation authorized the early release of inmate Erby?

▪ What measures did CDCR take to alert officials and his victims of your decision to release this inmate?

▪ Given that inmate Erby’s rehabilitation programming during incarceration was deemed unsatisfactory in March 2020, what, if anything, changed in his programming by his release in 2021?

▪ Given that part of inmate Erby’s denial of parole in 2020 was due to criminal activity noted during inmate Erby’s incarceration, was this criminal activity considered for inmate Erby’s release in 2021?

▪ Is CDCR willing to consider changes to the early parole program to ensure inmates who pose a risk of violence to the community remain incarcerated?

Erby was admitted to CDCR custody from Amador County on June 7, 2017, to serve nine years and four months for using someone else’s ID to obtain personal identifying information and forgery as a second striker, said Dana Simas, CDCR press secretary.

While incarcerated he was sentenced in Placer County on Aug. 21, 2017, to serve two years and eight months for first-degree burglary as a second striker, which was discharged for time served, Simas said in an email to The Sacramento Bee.

Erby was released on parole April 9, 2021, and discharged from parole on April 11. Simas did not respond to The Bee’s request for a comment from CDCR on Gire’s letter.

Gire said that a January 2021 letter of opposition to Erby’s early prison release argued that “continued incarceration appears to be the only way to guarantee that this inmate will not continue to victimize people.”

Placer County prosecutors argued in a 2018 opposition letter that Erby’s “repetitive behavior of committing felonies soon after being released from prison” and his “mindset is indicative of a current unreasonable risk of violence.” The District Attorney’s Office argued in January 2021 that “the indisputable fact that institutionalization has done nothing to correct the inmate’s criminal behavior.”

Amador County prosecutors argued in their 2018 opposition letter that he “has only been free from incarceration for about 5-6 years in the past 20 years. In that time, he has been convicted of 8 different crimes and arrested 20 times. Inmate Erby has been unable to go more than two years without committing a serious felony. His criminal history clearly demonstrates that he is a threat to society and unwilling to be rehabilitated.”

“The path to redemption is a noble one. CDCR’s efforts to provide positive rehabilitative programming for inmates are laudable and most appreciated,” Gire wrote in his letter to Allison. “Unfortunately, it was abundantly clear from inmate Erby’s extensive record and lack of progress while incarcerated that he was unsuitable and undeserving of early release.”

Erby on Monday afternoon remained in custody at the Sacramento County Jail, where he’s being held without bail. He’s scheduled to return to court Aug. 24.

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Visit sacbee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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