SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom has allowed the release of a killer who murdered a developmentally disabled man by forcing him to dig his own grave, torturing him, and then burying him alive, officials said last week.
The parole board in California granted release to David Weidert. Since Newsom took no action, the convicted killer who spent four decades incarcerated is eligible for release.
Weider, 58, received a life sentence for ruthlessly killing 20-year-old Fresno-area resident Michael Morganti in 1980 to cover up a $500 burglary, AP News reported.
Weidert used Morganti as a look-out during the burglary. After the disabled man spoke to investigators, Weidert, who was 17 at the time, tortured and killed him.
Weidert and another accomplice lured Morganti into a car and took him to an isolated place and forced him to dig his own grave. They beat him with a baseball bat and a shovel, stabbed him with a knife and choked him with a telephone wire. The man eventually suffocated after he was buried alive, according to the news outlet.
Newsom blocked Weidert’s parole last year, saying then that he “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time.” However, this year the parole board “determined that he does not pose a current unreasonable risk to public safety.” Hence, the governor did not block his release.
Morganti’s sister, Vikki Van Duyne, said she was stunned and distraught after attending 11 parole hearings over the years to oppose Weidert’s release.
“I didn’t think the governor would think that things had changed in 13 months from the time when he said no last time, because I didn’t see anything change,” she said of Newsom’s decision.
Van Duyne believes Weidert remains dangerous and said she will work to change the legal standard for paroles.
“You do really bad things, we need to have a way to protect society and keep people in,” Van Duyne said.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp accused the governor of pandering to “people who want to end incarceration.”
Newsom, a Democrat, faces a recall election on September 14. Some of his Republican opponents have criticized his support for prisoner release amid a 31% increase in homicides in California last year during the coronavirus pandemic, AP reported.
Businessman John Cox is among Newsom’s critics. He said the decision “sickens me” and that Weidert“ should never see the light of day again.”
Parole commissioners reportedly weighed Weidert’s youthful immaturity and lack of criminal record at the time and decades of good behavior in prison against what they called “an incredibly gruesome, violent, horrific murder” in deciding he is no longer a risk, according to a hearing transcript.
Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, who has lobbied against Weidert’s release for years, accused Newsom of siding with criminals: “The man who tortured and murdered a mentally disabled young man goes free while his family is forced to relive the horror.”
Weidert’s lawyer believes the decision is justified.
“Mr. Weidert understands the gravity of his crime and the permanent seriousness of the consequences to the victim and the victim’s family. He’s somebody who has always emphasized his remorse and his acceptance of responsibility,” said his attorney, Charles Carbone. “This is about promoting public safety, and Mr. Weidert has earned his way out by pursuing a very long and arduous path of rehabilitation.”