Governor Jerry Brown today commuted the sentences of nine people serving time in state prison. Among them was Florence Laurel Anderson, who had been convicted of murdering a man in a Eureka motel room 16 years ago.
Anderson was sentenced to 25 years to life, plus an addition two years for burglary, for her role in the killing of a man named Bruce James on April 3, 2001, who was staying at the Broadway Motel. According to a petition filed in federal court in 2015, James had hired Anderson as a prostitute. When the two of them were in James’ room, Michael Lane — Anderson’s “pimp” and eventual codefendant — burst in and stabbed James to death. The two of them stole a small amount of cash and other valuables from the room and fled.
In a statement released this morning (and reproduced below), Brown writes that Anderson has been a model prisoner, and has overcome the drug addiction that seems to have prompted the murder. He notes, also, evidence that Lane had bullied and abused into participating in the crime.
Brown notes that District Attorney Maggie Fleming opposed Anderson’s petition for clemency. However, “the former district attorney” spoke in favor of clemency, so long as Anderson had reformed while in prison. (It’s not clear if Brown is referring to Paul Gallegos, who immediately preceded Fleming in office, or Terry Farmer, who would have been district attorney at the time of the crime and the trial.)
Brown’s commutation of Anderson’s sentence will mean that she will be eligible for parole this year, rather than in 2028.
Commutation statement from the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown:
In April 2001, Florence Anderson went to Bruce James’ motel room. She was accompanied by her pimp Michael Lane, who planned to rob Mr. James because he thought Mr. James had large sums of cash. In the hotel room, Mr. Lane stabbed Mr. James, killing him. Mr. Lane, Ms. Anderson, and two others then took $49, credit cards, jewelry, and clothing from the room. On July 3, 2002, the Humboldt County Superior Court sentenced Ms. Anderson to 25 years to life for first degree murder plus 2 years for second degree burglary.
In her application for clemency, Ms. Anderson describes her battle with addiction and her history as a victim of abuse. According to Ms. Anderson, “I did not know what addiction was or understand how out of control my life had become.” An investigation revealed overwhelming evidence that Ms. Anderson was suffering from Intimate Partner Battery at the time of her crime and that she endured severe physical abuse at the hands of her codefendant, Michael Lane. Mr. Lane was interviewed as part of the investigation and reported that there was no plan to murder Mr. James. He explained, “But my anger took over and things went downhill. After things went downhill, threatened her and told her she couldn’t say nothing. She didn’t come forward because of me and my threats. She took my words as gold. She was afraid of me. Actually she was terrified of me. She didn’t do anything. She doesn’t deserve all this time. While the current District Attorney of Humboldt County has written to oppose clemency and takes the position that there is nothing “exceptional” about this case, the former District Attorney said that he “found it was very plausible that she was truly a victim of domestic violence and that her involvement in the crime was due to that fact.” He said, “Provided she has done well in prison, it makes sense for the Governor to cut her some slack … if she is doing well in prison, I would not oppose it. I would support it.”
In her 16 years of incarceration, Ms. Anderson has shown a determination to overcome her struggle with drugs and a genuine commitment to rehabilitation. She has been certified as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor by the Addiction Counselor Certification Board of California, has created and taught substance abuse prevention curriculum, and has an internship offer to continue this work upon her release. Ms. Anderson has not been disciplined for any misconduct while in prison and has participated in numerous self-help groups, including Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, Relapse Prevention, Co-Dependents Anonymous, and Restorative Justice. She has been housed in the honor dorm for several years, worked on the executive body of the Canine Support Team, and works as a hospice volunteer for terminally ill inmates. Her family has offered her housing and other support. A correctional officer described her as a “model for real change.” Two additional correctional officers in 2011 supported Ms. Anderson one stating, “It is in my opinion that she would pose no threat if and will live a productive and successful life in the community.” I do not discount the gravity of Ms. Anderson’s offense, but I also cannot overlook the violent abuse she endured and her limited role in this crime. Since Ms. Anderson has been incarcerated, she has maintained her sobriety and helps fellow inmates who also struggle with addiction. She deserves an earlier opportunity to make her case before the Board of Parole Hearings so that they can determine whether she is ready to be released from prison.
THEREFORE, I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, by virtue of the power and authority vested in me by the Constitution and statutes of the State of California, do hereby commute Florence Laurel Anderson’s sentence to a total of 16 years to life.