Obstruction of Justice

A kidnapping victim watched his case linger needlessly in court 
for years. In S.F., he has company.

"Why did you tell us the case was strong?" Julie Kruger asked.

"Who told you that?"

"Reve Bautista," she said.

Ross, Woo, and Hernandez exchanged looks. It was well known at the Hall of Justice that Bautista had not gotten along with DA Kamala Harris, who suspended her in 2006 for filing charges in a misdemeanor battery case that other prosecutors opted not to pursue.

"Our No. 1 goal is to get convictions," Woo said. Julie Kruger countered that Hernandez' plea bargain hardly seemed a worthwhile "conviction."

"This is nothing," she said.

In the end, the prosecutors were adamant. "We won't be able to prove this," Ross said. "Evan, I believe what you say happened to you." He then joked that in the age of hit TV police procedurals such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, everybody expects miracles from law enforcement.

After the meeting, Julie Kruger and Chris Pritchard walked down the hall to Department 22 to attend Webster's sentencing hearing. Evan and Michael Kruger waited in a victim protection room on the same floor.

By coincidence, the judge responsible for deciding the plea bargain was Susan Breall, who had presided over the preliminary hearing three years earlier. "I remember the case, and I remember it well," she said. The judge said she was "on the fence" about whether to approve the deal, and had concerns about the light sentence and unhappiness of the victim's family.

Hernandez tried to explain. "There are some proof problems with this case," he said.

"But there have been proof problems since the day of the preliminary hearing," Breall said. "Is that correct?"

"Correct," Hernandez said.

"Four years ago."


"I am going to send it to trial," Breall said. "I am very troubled by this. I heard [Evan Kruger's] testimony. ... I find this an extremely serious case and a serious offense."

But Wallace was able to talk Breall down, arguing that the judge was acting rashly and rejecting the plea deal out of "frustration." In a motion filed with the court before the sentencing hearing, Wallace argued that the events of Aug. 2, 2006, were "at most a 'juvenile prank' which got totally out of control."

Webster's mother, Bernadette Adolph, pleaded with the judge, claiming the crime had been caused by youthful indiscretion. She apologized to the Krugers. "He just ... got caught up," she said. "He was 18, and he is very sorry." Looking at Julie Kruger, she said, "From mother to mother, I do understand what happened. I am so sorry, and any mercy from the court will help."

Before the incident with Kruger, Webster had no criminal record, and since 2006, he had managed to stay out of trouble. According to the pre-hearing motion filed by Wallace, he had attended Santa Rosa Junior College and then Laney College in Oakland, and was still pursuing a degree.

Breall finally approved the sentence after Pritchard and Kruger reluctantly acknowledged that they would prefer that Webster be sentenced and the case resolved, although they deemed the plea deal far too generous.

When the hearing ended, the Kruger family walked to their car, escorted by a police officer, and drove home. "It was a sham," Evan Kruger says. "You think that someone commits a crime, and the person the crime's committed against gets justice. Four years later, [Webster] serves a month. ... It was definitely eye-opening."

Bautista, when informed of the sentence by a reporter, was incredulous. "Are you kidding me?" she said blankly. "Are you serious?"

The absurdity of the delay was not lost on Webster himself, who had prepared and submitted a letter to the court before his sentencing hearing. It read, in part:

"At the time, the events of that evening seemed rather innocent. It was never my intention to directly or indirectly harm Mr. Kruger or lead Mr. Kruger into harm's way. Nonetheless, had I not been so careless, selfish, and lacking in judgment, odds are, this series of events would have unfolded in a different way. I take full responsibility and I am truly sorry. ... I would like to assure Mr. Kruger's family, my family, and the court, that I will never again engage in any activity that will put me or anyone else in jeopardy. I believe it's safe to say, after almost nearing half a decade, that we would all like to move forward with our lives, free of worry and distress."

After four long years, it seemed there was only one the thing that prosecution, defense, judge, defendant and victims could agree on. It was time to move on, even if justice got left behind.

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