For a parent who loses their child in one of the worst ways imaginable, no amount of time can ever ease the pain. But when Wanda Dresser learned that her daughter’s killer would spend less than eight years in prison, she couldn’t help but feel that the justice system had failed the “beautiful and bright” young mother who was taken too soon.
Exactly one year ago, 27-year-old Desiree Licon sustained fatal injuries at the hands of her partner of 10 years, Jesse Almer, while at their San Andreas residence with their three children. It was determined by investigators that Licon suffered hours of abuse before receiving a brain injury that lead to her death four days later.
A former nurse at Avalon Health Care in San Andreas, Licon would have celebrated her 29th birthday later this month.
In a previous interview with the Enterprise, Dresser described the relationship between the two young parents as seemingly loving, with no outward signs of prior violence.
Almer, 27, was initially charged with second-degree murder, however, the charge was later reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
“As the investigation progressed, the evidence in the case supported the crime of voluntary manslaughter rather than the higher level of intent required for the crime of second-degree murder,” said Calaveras County Assistant District Attorney Dana Pfeil, the lead prosecutor.
The defendant pleaded guilty to all charges, and on May 29, Judge Timothy Healy handed Almer the moderate sentence of six years for manslaughter, with an additional two years and four months for inflicting great bodily injury on a spouse or cohabitant.
The defendant received a 323-day credit for time served, as well as 48 days of conduct credit, according to court records.
According to Pfeil, the maximum sentence Almer could have received was 13 years and eight months. A convict can serve up to 11 years for voluntary manslaughter alone, under California Penal Code.
“(Almer’s sentence) was certainly not outside the realm of reasonable,” Pfeil told the Enterprise. “The rules of the court require the judge to take into consideration a variety of factors related to the crime, the defendant and victim. He has to balance those factors and come out with what he believes to be a just punishment.”
Some factors noted by Healy in the defendant’s favor during the sentencing were his lack of criminal history and early admission to the charges, Pfeil said. The great bodily harm inflicted on the victim was also noted, as a strike against him.
For Dresser, who is now raising her daughter’s three children, the mild sentence has been hard to swallow.
“Dana (Pfeil) did a really good job of detailing why he should receive the maximum sentence, and I really feel it did not make an impact on the judge,” Dresser said. “The bottom line that’s getting lost is that you don’t have the right to hurt another person, no matter how mad you are.”
Dresser added that, although Almer appeared remorseful during his sentencing, she believes that placing higher sentences on some nonviolent crimes sends the wrong message to criminals.
“What we’re telling people is that you can get away with this,” Dresser said. “You think that victims are fearful already to come forward? I don’t think this is going to help. I think it says we don’t put a high value on a human life.”
And yet life continues for Dresser and her grandchildren, who will still be underage when their father is released.
“We have to live every day. We have no choice,” Dresser said. “We are doing our best to maintain life as best as we can and not just maintain it, but my goal is, when I’m no longer here, I’ve left them with the tools they need to work out their feelings.”
In the aftershocks of tragedy, Dresser faces the unparalleled challenges of maintaining a relationship with Almer’s family and determining her grandchildren’s future interactions with their father.
“I have to be the bigger person here for them, and I am,” Dresser said. “I don’t have to tell them what happened – they were there. ... Regardless of whether he spent a day or life in jail, they have to live with that. I have to emphasize that the most important thing in this whole thing is that my daughter is gone. I can’t save her, but I can help and control what happens to my grandkids, and I will live out the rest of my life making sure that they have the best possible life that they can have.”
If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic abuse, the Resource Connection offers a confidential, 24/7 hotline at 209-754-4011.