Local board of rabbis applauds parole OK

Sixteen years ago, Robert Rosenkrantz shot dead the family friend who cruelly outed him as a homosexual. Last Thursday, a Los Angeles judge ordered Rosenkrantz, now 33, to be released from prison over the vehement objection of Gov. Gray Davis — but to the delight of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California.

The Board of Rabbis, along with several Christian organizations, became involved in the case at the behest of Rosenkrantz's lawyers, who claim Davis refuses to consider the merits of individual cases in parole hearings for murderers, instead opting to automatically issue a denial. Since becoming governor in 1999, Davis has gone against the State Board of Prison Terms in 47 of the 48 cases, including Rosenkrantz's, in which it opted to grant parole to convicted killers.

"This means that the governor has to follow the law, just like the parole board has to follow the law. When they believe someone is no longer dangerous, they have to release them after they've served enough time for the crime. Life with the possibility of parole means life with the possibility of parole," said Los Angeles-based Rowan Klein, one of Rosenkrantz's several attorneys.

The support of groups like the Board of Rabbis "just reinforces the belief that we have multicultural support for our position that if somebody demonstrates he's rehabilitated, he should be given a second chance, which is what the law says."

Rabbi H. David Teitelbaum, the Board of Rabbis' executive director, said he was "delighted to hear the news" of Superior Court Judge Paul Gutman's ruling in Rosenkrantz's favor. And while Rosenkrantz is Jewish, Teitelbaum said the prisoner's religion was not a factor in the board's decision to call for his release.

"There is a parole process; there is a hearing, and the parole board considers whether an individual is eligible for parole or not. Then I think one has to honor the integrity of the parole board. The governor should not have a blanket policy of refusing parole without considering each individual case and especially not honoring the recommendations of his own parole board," he said.

"Every case has to be considered on its own merits. Not every case is the same. I think that's a very important point."

Teitelbaum and Klein also pointed out Rosenkrantz's record since his incarceration has been impressive. The inmate at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo has tutored other prisoners, undergone therapy, earned collegiate degrees and has demonstrated a proficiency with computers.

"He's basically a computer whiz like his brother," said Klein. "He's taken every therapy program that's available."

While the Board of Rabbis' decision to support Rosenkrantz's case was not a "halachic discussion," Rabbi Lavey Derby, the board's president, said the choice was reinforced by Jewish values.

"Our tradition requires us to grapple with issues of justice — how to achieve justice, how to balance justice and compassion. In areas where there's a perception of blatant injustice, we have a role of trying to correct that. To the majority of the board, this seemed to be a blatant injustice," said Derby, senior rabbi at Tiburon's Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar.

"Our statement isn't that criminals should be egregiously set free. It is when the parole system has the opportunity to work and someone — even someone guilty of a very serious crime like this fellow was — is deemed to be worthy of parole, the criminal justice system should allow for that. This is what is just, compassionate and humane."

Gutman's decision was upheld last week by the 2nd District Court of Appeals. The state has since appealed to the state Supreme Court. It is uncertain how soon the court will get to the case.

An 18-year-old Rosenkrantz was originally convicted of second-degree murder for the 1985 killing of 17-year-old Steven Redman, and sentenced to 17 years to life. While at a party in the Southern California community of Calabasas with his male lover, Rosenkrantz was attacked and beaten by his brother, Joseph, and Redman. The pair subsequently told Rosenkrantz's father, Herbert, of Robert's homosexuality, resulting in Robert being thrown out of the family home.

The day after being ordered out of the house, Rosenkrantz bought five boxes of ammunition and ordered a 9 mm semi-automatic Uzi from a local gun shop. One week after being attacked, Rosenkrantz confronted Redman, and shot him 10 times. After eluding authorities for three weeks, Rosenkrantz surrendered in Calabasas.

"I assume he's going to live as a rehabilitated and responsible member of society," said Teitelbaum. "We felt this was a good cause to help sponsor."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.