A Livermore man who had an earlier double-murder conviction in the case overturned on appeal accepted a plea deal late last year for lesser charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and a 20-year prison sentence for an alcohol- and speed-fueled crash that killed a mother and her toddler in 2015.
Brian Zachary Jones, who has been incarcerated for nearly six years, remains in custody at Folsom State Prison after his sentencing last December for crashing his Chevrolet Corvette into an apartment complex on Murrieta Boulevard in Livermore and killing Esperanza Morales Rodriguez, 46, of Seaside and her 14-month-old daughter Yulida Perez-Morales.
Jones, now 41, had been found guilty by a jury on two counts of second-degree murder and other charges and later sentenced to 30 years to life without the possibility of parole following a trial in 2017. But he successfully appealed that conviction, with a state appellate court panel -- in a 2-1 decision last June -- agreeing with his attorney's argument that a juror was improperly removed from the case by the trial judge.
That reverted the case back to Alameda County Superior Court for potential re-trial.
But Jones and county prosecutors reached a plea agreement late last fall that solidified a conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter while driving drunk -- but also leaves the door open for parole, possibly as soon as 2025.
"After careful consideration and consultation with the victim's family, Mr. Jones was allowed to plead guilty to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and DUI. The agreed upon sentence was 20 years in state prison," Teresa Drenick, spokesperson for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, told the Weekly on Tuesday. (The county court website indicated Jones pleaded no contest, rather than guilty.)
Assistant public defender Christina Moore, who represented Jones in the case post-appeal, said, "We considered all parties in coming to this resolution, which we believe was in everyone's best interest."
The new plea deal appears to bring to a close a drawn-out criminal case that spent years working its way through the state court system.
Jones was arrested in the fatal crash after driving erratically on Livermore city streets, hitting speeds of 75-99 mph, all while having a blood-alcohol content of 0.14 (nearly twice the legal limit for driving) after attending the Livermore Wine Country Festival on May 2, 2015, according to city police.
He lost control of his Corvette that Saturday evening and smashed into an apartment complex in the 900 block of Murrieta Boulevard, where Morales Rodriguez and Perez-Morales were attending an outdoor party at relative's home, police said. The mother and toddler daughter were killed, and two boys were injured by wreckage debris.
At trial in 2017, county prosecutors pushed for second-degree murder convictions while Jones' attorney at the time argued jurors should find him guilty of manslaughter instead.
He was convicted of the double-murder and other counts, but only after the jury was re-seated following the dismissal of two original jurors due to misconduct that occurred during initial deliberations.
That was the crux of Jones' successful appeal to overturn his original convictions and 30-years-to-life sentence.
The California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, in a 2-1 decision rendered June 15, 2020, ruled that Jones' right to a fair trial was violated by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi for dismissing the original "Juror No. 10" who reported the misconduct of a fellow juror.
Early in deliberations, "Juror No. 9" said they had read a news report citing Jones' 2003 DUI conviction, a fact prosecutors agreed to withhold from the jury as prejudicial.
Juror No. 9 was dismissed for misconduct for reading case information outside of the courtroom, but Delucchi also removed Juror No. 10 because of the impact of her peer's misconduct on her own judgment in the case.
The appellate court majority contended in their ruling that Delucchi "never asked (Juror No. 10) directly whether she could continue ... Instead, the court asked her if it would be 'very difficult' for her to continue. At best, the question is ambiguous, which is insufficient."
With the case returned to Alameda County, Jones agreed to the new plea deal and was sentenced on Dec. 9 to two consecutive terms of 10 years in state prison for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as well as three years, to be served concurrently, for felony DUI with injury, according to online court records.
He received credit for just over 11 years based on time already served between county jail and state prison in the case -- nearly 5-1/2 years for time actually served, plus a matching equivalent for good time/behavior credit, according to court records. The state website indicates Jones will first be eligible for parole in February 2025.