Case Summary - What Happened
On August 21, 1996, Brandon Hein was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
On May 22, Brandon and 4 other teenagers [Jason Holland, Micah Holland, Tony Milotti, Chris Velardo] went to the backyard clubhouse of Mike McLoren that was locally known as the "Fort" to purchase marijuana. McLoren was known to sell marijuana out of the "Fort" where he and his friends hung out. Mike's best friend and frequent companion at the "Fort" was Jimmy Farris who was the son of an LAPD officer.
Most of the teenagers were stoned or drunk. Both Jason Holland and Mike McLoren testified in court that what happened next took approximately 60 seconds.
The "Fort" was a small, dark, homemade structure in McLoren's back yard. 15-year-old Micah Holland was first into the "Fort." By the time the others entered words had been exchanged between Micah and McLoren and a fight was already in progress. The bigger McLoren had Micah in a headlock. Micah's older brother, Jason, jumped in and the melee was underway. During the 60 second fight Jason Holland pulled a 2" Swiss Army-type knife from a holder on his belt and stabbed at McLoren. Mike's friend Jimmy Farris jumped in and Jason stabbed him too. Fists swung in the dark and in 60 seconds it was over and Jimmy Farris and Mike McLoren left the "Fort" running to the McLoren house.
Brandon was in the fist fight though he didn't know who was swinging or why. Tony Miliotti was standing in the doorway. Chris Vellardo was sitting in the truck.
Nothing was taken from the "Fort." After the fight, Brandon, Jason, Micah, and Tony walked from the "Fort" and joined Vellardo in the truck and drove off. Jason would later tell the incredulous boys, "I think I stabbed them."
Mike McLoren and Jimmy Farris ran to the house where Jimmy collapsed on the floor. McLoren's family dialed 911 and called Jimmy's mother who lived down the street. Although he was taken to the hospital, and the Farris family was not told of their son's death until hours later, Mrs. Farris believes her son was dead before she arrived. The emergency room doctor who treated him would write to the Judge that "Jimmy Farris did not die of grossly brutal wounds. A single small puncture wound penetrated his chest and into his heart. Had that stab wound been one inch further to the left, he perhaps would still be alive today . . " Because of the severity of the stab wound to the heart most of the bleeding was internal.
The DA immediately began to portray all of the boys as "gang members" - something for which there was absolutely no evidence - and the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department closed ranks around their own. Although Brandon was ready for trial he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial and forced to wait in Los Angeles County Jail almost a year until his case was heard, combined by the court with that of the others so that all were tried as one.
Although Jason Holland took the stand and claimed full responsibility for his actions, the District Attorney, reeling from a series of public humiliations including loss of the OJ trial, charged all the boys under California's felony murder rule. Under the felony murder rule everyone is caught up in the same net whether they had any culpability in the crime, foreknowledge, or even knowledge that a crime had been committed. All the DA needed to do was convince the jury that even although nothing had been taken, the boys intended to steal and not buy pot.
Although he changed his story many times, by the time of the trial McLoren's testimony had become that the boys came to steal, not buy his marijuana. McLoren was the sole witness claiming the boys came to steal, and for his testimony he was granted immunity.
From the beginning the DA effectively used the media to plant the idea in the minds of potential jurors that this was a gang killing, even though any gang testimony was so flimsy as to not be allowed in court. The jurors believed McLoren's testimony and found the boys guilty of attempted robbery, which meant they automatically ALL became guilty of murder under the Felony Murder Rule.