BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
She was 15 at the time of the murder, with an IQ of 76. But the callousness and brutality of the crime and her unwillingness to help the pleading, elderly victim led to a maximum sentence Tuesday for Katila Nash.
Following a halting and emotional recounting of the life of the victim, 81-year-old Dorothy Session, by her daughter Elaine Covert, Kern County Superior Court Judge Gary T. Friedman sentenced Nash to 25 years to life in prison.
"A lengthy prison sentence is the only suitable disposition in this case," the judge said.
Nash, wearing eyeglasses, with her hair pulled back in a bun, stared blankly at the tabletop as Friedman handed down his decision. Just moments before, the judge had denied a motion by defense attorney Richard Rivera to throw out the "special circumstances" found to be true at trial that the murder was committed during the commission of a burglary.
It was that intent to commit a burglary that allowed for a charge of first-degree murder.
Were it not for her young age, Nash would have been eligible for life without the possibility of parole, said prosecutor David Wilson.
But he said he is satisfied that justice was done Tuesday.
"It's the most the law allows," Wilson said following Nash's sentence. "It's the best that I can do."
David Deshawn Moses, 20, who was with Nash that April day in 2010, was sentenced last month to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors argue that Nash's older sister, Angelique Nash, 19, also was present during the crime, but she never entered Session's home. At trial, the jury deadlocked 10-2, with 10 voting that Angelique was guilty. Her retrial is scheduled to begin Nov. 19, but Wilson said it will likely be delayed until January.
Katila Nash, who did not strike Session during the time she was in the victim's home, nevertheless bears responsibility for the crime, Judge Friedman said Tuesday.
"The gravity of the offense and the callousness of the defendant's participation" were primary factors, Friedman said.
"The victim was pleading, begging for mercy and help during the incident," he noted.
And Nash's long history of "assaultive" behavior as a juvenile was also taken into consideration, the judge said.
Earlier at the hearing, Covert, accompanied by her husband, Ric Covert, stood before the court and spoke about her mother's life, a life dedicated to faith, family and friends.
Her voice wavering at times, Mrs. Covert recalled her mother's modest beginnings in Missouri, her marriage to her late husband, Fred Session, and her central role as mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to a growing, thriving extended family.
"Her goal in life was always to live as Christ," Covert told the court.
Later, outside of the courtroom, Mrs. Covert said despite her grief, she can find room in her heart to forgive Nash. But forgiveness does not mean negating responsibility.
"If my mom were here, she would say, 'I'll forgive you, but you still have to suffer the consequences.'"
Rivera acknowledged during the hearing that there was enough evidence at trial to support a guilty verdict for murder, but he argued that Nash's below average intellect and young age raise serious questions about whether she formed any "substantial awareness" that her actions could result in danger to human life.
"Miss Nash had no reason to believe Mr. Moses would do what he did," Rivera argued.
Floyd Nash, father of Katila Nash, did not speak during the sentencing hearing, he said, out of concern that he might do his daughter more harm than good. But afterward, standing in the brisk chill outside the downtown courthouse, he said he still has hope that an appeals court will overturn her conviction.
"I always thought a confession was given in your own words or written down and signed," he said.
Instead, he said he believes detectives made leading statements during interviews with his daughter, a 15-year-old girl with a low IQ and mental problems.
"She doesn't understand anything that is going on," he said.
She doesn't even fully understand that she has been sentenced to at least 2 1/2 decades behind bars.
"It will be 25 years," he said, "before she can even ask for parole."