THE BIG TALK
An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.
Desiree Andrade fervently believes that the killers of her 20-year-old son, Julian — who was brutally beaten, thrown off a cliff and then stomped to death — should get the death penalty or spend the rest of their lives in prison.
But that isn’t how justice is meted out in Los Angeles today.
Ms. Andrade watched with disbelief and anger as Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon’s far-left criminal justice agenda, in her opinion, made sure those who committed the killing paid the smallest possible price.
“I’m disgusted. That’s the best word I can use to describe it,” she said. “I’m just disgusted at what has happened.”
She helped organize a campaign to recall Mr. Gascon, who took office in December. Ms. Andrade, with her heartbreaking story of justice denied, emerged as one of the most visible spokespeople for the recall.
The recall push is more nascent than the one California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, faces by the end of the year.
Organizers of the Gascon recall say they are close to winning approval for collecting signatures. Approval would start a 160-day countdown to gather roughly 590,000 signatures — 10% of the county’s voters — to get the recall question on the ballot, likely in the 2022 elections.
The recall campaign started nearly three years after five “friends” abducted Julian Andrade at his home in May 2018 because they thought he stole some marijuana from them, his mother said.
What followed was a torturous killing.
“They stabbed him with shards of a glass pipe and beat him with a metal chair,” Ms. Andrade said with an icy calm she has developed from years of tears.
“Then they pulled to the side of the road and beat him some more, and then they dumped him down the side of a canyon. Then, when the ringleader thought he saw Julian’s head moving, he scrambled down into the canyon and started stomping on his head with his steel-toed boots.”
She said she knows why Julian fought so hard to stay alive.
“It was because he has two children and a daughter he never met. It seems to me that [the killers’ sentence] should be life without parole or the death sentence. He’s gone, my oldest. … To me, a life for a life,” Ms. Andrade said.
The DA had other plans.
Mr. Gascon, who was elected last year with the help of super PACs financed by liberal billionaire activist George Soros, took office to implement a leftist criminal justice agenda.
For Mr. Gascon and other “Soros DAs” who recently took office, the death penalty is off the table.
They are remaking a court system that they deem systemically racist. They oppose cash bail, pursue fewer indictments and toss aside special circumstances and other laws that enhance sentencing such as three-strikes penalties.
Before Mr. Gascon took office, District Attorney Jackie Lacey included “special circumstances” charges of kidnapping and torture against the five accused in Julian Andrade’s death.
If convicted, they would face the possibility of life without parole. Ms. Andrade considered such a sentence a just punishment for her son’s brutal killing.
Less than two weeks after Mr. Gascon took over, he dropped the special charges, reducing the maximum sentence to 25 years in prison.
Ms. Andrade was devastated.
“When they announced they were dropping the charges, the defense lawyer turned to his guy, both of them with beaming smiles, and they fist-bumped each other right in front of me,” she said.
She was far from alone. She said the deputy district attorneys also were upset.
“They did not agree with this. They did not want to do this. They said they didn’t become prosecutors to do this,” Ms. Andrade said. “I feel bad for them.”
Mr. Gascon is facing something akin to a mutiny in addition to the recall drive.
He regards sentencing enhancements as matters of prosecutorial discretion and has banned their use because they are often enforced against people of color.
Dozens of deputy district attorneys in Los Angeles disagreed. They argued that California voters decided the issue and they are legally bound to pursue felons as aggressively as possible.
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against Mr. Gascon, and a state judge agreed in February that they had a case.
Still, Ms. Andrade wants Mr. Gascon gone.
The recall effort has been submitted to the registrar of voters in Los Angeles, and the office is expected to approve the signature collection soon.
Like all other recall efforts, those seeking to oust Mr. Gascon face a difficult challenge.
Oddsmakers say Mr. Newsom is likely to survive his looming recall effort, given that California is essentially a one-party state, and the annual UCLA “quality of life” survey, released in April, gave the governor a 52% to 39% favorable-unfavorable rating.
The same survey found Mr. Gascon with a 31% to 32% favorable-unfavorable rating, with 22% viewing him “very unfavorably.” Only 9% said they view the district attorney “very favorably.”
Ms. Andrade plans to do all she can to oust Mr. Gascon.
She pledged to be heavily involved in canvassing neighborhoods and gathering signatures should the petition be approved.
“He claims punishment doesn’t make families happy, but I don’t know where he’s getting his research from because I want people to be punished if they’ve done horrible crimes,” she said. “All the victims’ family members I’ve met feel the same way.”
For Ms. Andrade, it’s personal. But she said a broad swath of voters feel cheated in Los Angeles and other places where district attorneys have shifted gears.
They were sold an anodyne indictment of a justice system that deals too harshly with petty crime, she said, and she could understand if Mr. Gascon and other liberal prosecutors focused their changes on less-violent crime.
But Mr. Gascon spreads his approach to those accused of felonies, the sorts of crimes that need retribution along with a shot at rehabilitation, Ms. Andrade said.
“He didn’t specify what he meant,” she said. “I’ll bet anything if he had told the truth and said, ‘I’m going to let these people out or off,’ you’d better believe he wouldn’t be in office right now.”