Two men who potentially faced the rest of their lives in prison for allegedly racing along a Hawthorne street and causing a frightening crash that killed an innocent San Pedro musician will instead be sentenced this month to a combined five years behind bars following plea deals with the prosecution.
Alfredo Perez Davila, 24, and Anthony Leon Holley, 41, who already have served most of their combined time, made their deals in connection with the Jan. 15, 2016, death of 36-year-old Benny Golbin before their simultaneous murder-case trials were scheduled to begin next week at the Airport courthouse.
Davila’s plea Thursday afternoon followed a sentencing in another Hawthorne traffic death where a judge ordered a driver to spend one year in county jail for an alcohol-related crash that killed 21-year-old Lyft driver Thor Anderson early Jan. 1, 2016. Prosecutors had sought a six-year sentence.
PLEA DEALS REACHED
Davila and Holley reached plea deals with the District Attorney’s Office last week as dozens of people were called for jury duty to select two panels for the cases in Judge T. Jay Ford III’s courtroom.
Each was charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter and street racing in connection with the crash on Crenshaw Boulevard near 135th Street. Police and prosecutors alleged Davila and Holley were racing north on Crenshaw until Davila lost control of his Chevrolet Cobalt and veered into the center divider.
In a crash caught on a taxi driver’s dash-cam video, the curb launched the Cobalt into the air. It flipped over and landed on Golbin’s Honda CRV as he drove south. Golbin, a musician and music teacher, was on his way from an Inglewood school to teach students at the Palos Verdes Unified School District.
Golbin was killed instantly.
Davila was arrested at the scene, but Holley sped away. He later surrendered after photographs of his car were released to the media.
JUDGE EXPRESSED DOUBTS
During an April 2016 preliminary hearing, Judge Elden Fox expressed doubts that the prosecution’s evidence supported a murder case. He moved the murder case forward, however, telling Deputy District Attorney Eugene Hanrahan he might have a difficult time convincing a jury of anything more than manslaughter.
Davila’s attorney, Anthony Willoughby, said no jury would convict his client of murder.
In an interview Friday, Hanrahan said the challenge would have been to convince a jury that the two drivers were racing.
As the case moved through the process toward trial, Willoughby persuaded Judge Kathryn Solorzano to throw out a statement that Davila made to police after the crash admitting he was racing. Hanrahan said the admission was “unconstitutionally obtained” by police.
DEAL FOR TESTIMONY
Prosecutors turned to Holley, offering him a deal to plead no contest to a felony charge of hit-and-run for his testimony against Davila. Holley, who admitted to driving the red Chevrolet Camaro caught on camera, would have told jurors that Davila was street racing or trying to get him to race, but that he did not participate, Hanrahan said. Under the deal, even if his testimony became unnecessary, he would be sentenced July 25 to a misdemeanor count of hit-and-run and credit for the time he served in jail. He would then go home.
Davila made the testimony unnecessary Thursday when he offered to plead guilty to a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter with a term of four years in prison. With time already served behind bars since the crash, he will be released in January. An undocumented immigrant, he will be deported to Mexico.
Hanrahan said the DA’s office considered it a “fair outcome” given all the factors involved.
Golbin’s mother, Sheri Kessel, however, said the legal system failed her son.
“I understand why they didn’t go to trial,” Kessel said. “I understand it’s a gamble and the judge was throwing stuff out against us left and right. ... He wasn’t going to let anybody say the word ‘racing’ throughout the whole trial.”
Kessel said she understood when Hanrahan told her not to get her hopes raised for a murder conviction, but said she would have been more comfortable if the plea deal was for a maximum six-year sentence.
“I feel like we really didn’t get a chance,” Kessel said. “I don’t feel like I was able to have justice for my son.”
Golbin’s stepmother, Susan Rose, who is married to his father, Joel Golbin, felt differently. She said she and her husband are “greatly relieved” that the case had reached a “satisfactory conclusion.”
“May Benny finally rest in peace and may we all now devote our precious time and energy to more positive ventures, including developing further the Benny Golbin Foundation for music education,” she wrote to family and friends in an email shared with the Daily Breeze.
Kessel said family members will speak at the sentencing July 6, where her son will be remembered as a husband, son, uncle, musician and teacher.
“I can go on for ages talking about what I’ve lost,” Kessel said.
COMPARED TO OTHER CASE
Kessel said that during discussions about Davila’s plea deal, prosecutors made her aware of the other Hawthorne case that played out Thursday morning in Airport court.
Despite Hanrahan’s arguments that Arturo Martinez Conchas, 21, be sentenced to six years in prison for the Jan. 1, 2016, alcohol-related crash that killed a young Lyft driver, Judge Mark Windham sentenced Conchas to one year in county jail and probation after Conchas expressed remorse in court.
Conchas’ blood-alcohol level was 0.16 — twice the legal limit for driving — when he crashed into 21-year-old Thor Anderson at 120th Street and Doty Avenue at 3 a.m. Conchas was on his way home from a New Year’s party. Anderson was on his way to pick up a fare.
Facing 10 years in prison, Conchas agreed to plead no contest if prosecutors did not seek more than six years.
Prosecutors were not happy with the judge’s decision, saying it made probation an option for getting drunk and killing someone on the road.
“My office believes (Conchas) should have gotten the maximum sentence under the plea bargain, but we left it up to the judge to exercise his discretion just as if he had gone to trial,” Hanrahan said.
Conchas’ attorney, Andrew Flier, previously acknowledged Conchas was driving under the influence but said the crash occurred when Anderson made a U-turn from the far right curb into Conchas’ path.