Fowler gets June retrial

Isaiah Fowler with his attorney Mark Reichel in 2015.

A trial date was set for next month in the case of a minor who had a 2015 murder conviction voided in February.

Isaiah Fowler, who is now 17, will go to trial June 19, said Judge Susan Harlan Tuesday after defense attorney Mark Reichel, Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook and others emerged from a closed discussion in court chambers.

Seconds before the judge’s announcement, Fowler emerged from a detainment room in a tied up ponytail with a gray-collared polo shirt, blue slacks and gray shoes. As he walked to his seat beside Reichel, he smiled in the direction of his family members seated in the audience.

He was convicted and sentenced in 2015 by Judge Thomas A. Smith, sitting as a juvenile court judge, for second-degree murder in the stabbing death of his sister, Leila, at their Valley Springs home in 2013.

Under the rules of the Division of Juvenile Justice, Isaiah Fowler was scheduled to be in jail for eight years until he turned 23.

The conviction was overturned earlier this year because a state court of appeals found the trial judge improperly accepted testimony obtained during police interrogations under circumstances in which the minor was not likely to understand that he had a right to remain silent and not answer police questions.

Attorneys will return to court on May 25 to discuss what testimony they need to present again during trial and what information can be read from previous transcripts. The first trial lasted 13 days. Reichel said the next should take a week.

According to Reichel, there will be no resolution of the case by plea bargain. Defenders want to prove Fowler is innocent.

Yook did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Reichel, who worked pro bono on Fowler’s case earlier this decade, was appointed by the county as his attorney Tuesday. He said afterward that saves money because he will be compensated at the county’s rate.

Since the crime occurred before Fowler was 14, proceedings will continue in juvenile court even if he turns 18. He will not get a trial by jury. Decisions will be made by a judge.

Fowler was relocated from the California Youth Authority in San Joaquin County to the El Dorado County Juvenile Detention Facility last week. Harlan ruled Tuesday he will remain at the facility through the proceedings.

Reichel said before the hearing that only the judge can determine if Fowler should be released to a suitable nondetention environment. Attorneys have asked that Fowler be released home.

After the 3rd District Court of Appeals voided the 2015 conviction in late February, the Office of the Attorney General had 40 days to file an appeal of that decision. When no appeal was filed, Fowler’s case was placed back on the county’s calendar.

In its decision, the appeals court determined it was inappropriate for the trial judge to accept some of the testimony presented during the 2015 trial from statements made in the course of police interrogations before Fowler was represented by an attorney.

He was interviewed on four separate occasions by a combination of local law enforcement and an FBI agent.

According to Steven Plesser, an attorney who represented Fowler during the 2015 trial, Fowler was in a fragile emotional state at the time, but he never confessed. Representatives from the district attorney’s office, the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations continued to “push him.”

Leila was found with more than 20 puncture wounds and lacerations. Many were described as “prod” wounds that did not cut deep. A stab wound that pierced her heard was named the official cause of death.

Fowler’s defense attorneys and family insisted during the 2015 trial that he was innocent and that his sister was killed by an intruder who came into their Valley Springs home and hurt the girl.

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