Altered jury verdict leads to six-year prison term

A Sonoma County judge Thursday sentenced an Occidental man to the maximum term of six years in prison in an attempted sexual assault, capping a controversial case in which the judge had earlier modified a jury?s verdict that would have mandated a life prison term.

Jaime Hernandez-Gonzalez, 24, was convicted in March of assault with the intent to commit a sex crime during a burglary, a charge that carries a mandatory term of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

But after the verdict, Sonoma County Judge Gary Medvigy substituted a different version of the same charge without the burglary element, saying a life sentence was cruel and unusual punishment for a crime in which the victim was never actually sexually touched.

By comparison, a rape of a woman not inside a house carries a maximum of eight years in prison. The substituted charge carried a top term of six years.

The law requiring a life term, dubbed Jessica?s Law, was enacted in California in 2006 in response to a the rape and murder in Florida of a 9-year-old by a repeat, violent sex offender. Medvigy said Thursday that prosecutors improperly applied the law against Hernandez Gonzalez, who has no prior criminal history.

In December 2007, Hernandez Gonzalez went inside an unlocked Cotati-area house around 3 a.m., disrobed and confronted a 21-year old woman in her bed as a friend of hers slept on the floor. Clutching a wad of his clothes in one hand, he pulled off the woman?s pajama bottoms with the other as she screamed and kicked.

Both women fled, as did Hernandez Gonzalez, without further incident.

The judge?s order modifying the verdict sparked robust public debate, with critics saying he minimized the assault and supporters calling him courageous for making a ruling he believed was just despite its potential unpopularity. Medvigy, a Republican and brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve, is a former deputy district attorney who prosecuted dozens of sexual assault cases.?

This case shouldn?t have been a typical ?throw the book at him,? Medvigy said.

?It really was an issue of which book to throw. In that regard, the wrong book was selected,? he said.

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