LOS ANGELES - The San Diego County District Attorney has sent newly-elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón a scathing letter criticizing his policies as not "in the interest of justice," and rescinding permission for Gascón to prosecute an accused Los Angeles cop killer’s San Diego armed robbery charges.
"I did not want to pick this fight, but I just can’t be silent," San Diego County DA Summer Stephan told FOX 11 in an interview on Thursday. "This is new territory, I haven’t had to do this before."
The letter revolves around the case of Rhett Nelson, who in 2019 was charged in LA County with the shooting and killing of an innocent skateboarder named Dmitry Koltsov in downtown LA.
Hours after that murder, Nelson is accused of fatally shooting off duty LA County Sheriff’s deputy Joseph Solano execution-style while he was standing in line at an Alhambra Jack in the Box.
Before those shootings, Nelson is accused of using a gun to commit five armed robberies at convenience stores in the San Diego areas.
When Nelson was caught and arrested in Long Beach following the murders, the San Diego DA’s office gave LA County permission to prosecute Nelson for the San Diego armed robberies. At the time, Jackie Lacey was still in office.
"It is common to defer jurisdiction to the county that has the higher crimes, we had done so, but now the circumstances have changed," Stephan said.
Stephan told FOX 11 she was appalled to learn of new LA District Attorney George Gascón’s intention to drop all gun enhancements against Nelson for the shootings and robberies, as well as Gascón’s intention to drop special circumstances of multiple murders.
Dismissal of these special charges would take life without parole off the table if Nelson were convicted, and could potentially drastically shorten his prison time.
"This doesn’t require creativity," Stephan said. "Two people were killed, you don’t get two lives for the price of one, that’s not how this works. The polices that have been set forth, I think they’re unlawful. I think you cannot stand up in front of a judge and say that it’s in the interest of justice because those words cannot come across any prosecutor’s lips and be truthful about it.
For that reason, Stephan notifies Gascón in her letter that she is rescinding her permission for LA County to prosecute the San Diego armed robberies, and wants the charges returned to her office.
"I do not want our San Diego county cases to be connected to any publicly-announced special directive that dismisses special circumstances and serious gun use allegations where your stated reason is "in the interest of justice," when clearly the facts of this defendant’s violent offenses show it is not," Stephan writes.
"I can’t be an unwilling participant in kind of a mockery in what the law provides for victim’s rights, I just can’t do it," Stephan said.
Previously, Mr. Gascón’s office told FOX 11 the following about Nelson’s case.
"If convicted, there is a possibility that decades from now, the parole board could determine he’s been rehabilitated. Such a determination, many years from now, would ultimately be a reflection of a system and the public alike weighing their continued interest in incarcerating a man who no longer poses a threat to society at an extraordinary taxpayer cost. Eliminating that remote possibility today may not be in the public’s interest decades from now."
Gascón’s office also told FOX 11 that Nelson would still face at least 70 years in prison even if all special charges were approved to be dropped, but Stephan says such a claim is dishonest because under a state law, Nelson would be eligible for elder parole at age 50.
"In this case, the person accused of being the killer is 30 years old, so when he’s 50 years old he will be eligible for elder parole," Stephan said. "How can you say that seven armed robberies and the execution, the murder of two innocent people is one where a person should have a parole date in 20 years?".
A parole date that Gascón’s new policies restrict deputy DA’s from attending, Stephan adds.
FOX 11 asked Stephan what her message is for Mr. Gascón.
"I would say that I want my counts back, I just want my case back and I would ask that he read my letter and reconsider for the victims in Los Angeles," Stephan said.
Stephan told FOX 11 if she gets her charges back, she will keep enhancements on all of them, and Nelson will face approximately 30 years in prison if convicted on the armed robbery charges alone.
Gascón’s office declined to comment to FOX 11 in response to Stephan’s letter.
A hearing in the case is set for Monday morning where a judge will decide whether or not to keep or drop the enhancements and special circumstances.
The judge will also listen to Stephan’s motion about returning the armed robbery charges to her office.