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Donnelly issues ‘Willie Horton ad’ vs. Jerry Brown

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly on Monday released what he calls his “Willie Horton” ad against Gov. Jerry Brown, blaming the incumbent for prison realignment that set free a convict who then raped and murdered his own grandmother.

The “ad” is actually a two-and-a-half minute online video, not a paid broadcast ad. And, upon viewing, it almost seems like more of an ad for Jennifer Kerns – whom Donnelly has just promoted from communications director to campaign manager.

In the video and in his news release, Donnelly – an Assemblyman from Twin Peaks – makes hay of the fact that he’s hired one of the first Republican female campaign managers to run a gubernatorial race in a large state, and then says talk of a GOP “war on women” was “conjured up by ‘consultants’ inside the Beltway.”

“If there IS such a thing as a War on Women, Donnelly says it’s being waged by Governor Jerry Brown as he releases violent criminals onto the street to prey upon women in California, at the same time he has stripped women of their 2nd Amendment rights by signing the strictest gun control laws in the nation,” the news release says. “The video shows footage of the criminal that some say will be Governor Brown’s ‘Willie Horton’ in this race – a convicted criminal who was released from prison, only to rape and murder his own grandmother. The inmate was released after the passage of California Assembly Bill (AB) 109, Governor Brown’s so-called realignment program aimed to save money and reduce overcrowding in prisons.”

The convict at issue, Jerome DeAvila, is accused of slaying his grandmother in Stockton a few days after he was released early from San Joaquin County Jail, where he’d been serving 30 days for failing to register as a sex offender.

Willie Horton was serving a life sentence for murder in Massachusetts when he was allowed out of prison as part of a weekend furlough program, fled, and eventually committed assault, armed robbery and rape. He was featured in attack ads against 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who had been governor of Massachusetts when Horton got out; Dukakis hadn’t started the furlough program, but had supported it.

UPDATE @ 2:07 P.M.: I asked Gov. Brown’s office to comment on this, and staffers there passed me along to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – which quickly disputed the ad’s core claim.

“There has never been one inmate released early from prison due to realignment – not one,” said CDCR Assistant Secretary Deborah Hoffman.

The 25,000-inmate reduction in the state’s prison population since realignment was put into effect is due to attrition, not early releases, CDCR contends. Parole violators now go to county jails instead of to prisons, and those jails institute their own policies to deal with their populations.

In DeAvila’s case, he was in and out of San Joaquin County’s custody about a dozen times in the year preceding his alleged murder of his grandmother, for parole violations including failing to meet with his parole officer, failure to register, use of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, and public drunkenness.

“We take absconding from parole very seriously,” Hoffman said. “Realignment provides counties with the funding and tools needed to manage offenders at the local level. Parole violators can be held in county jail for up to 180 days and we know sheriffs take their responsibility seriously and are making difficult decisions every day.”

San Joaquin County got $7.6 million in 2012 and $15.2 million in 2013 to implement realignment, but has struggled with jail overcrowding since long before realignment ever came along.

UPDATE @ 2:40 P.M.: Dan Newman, a political spokesman for Brown, just responded that he’s “rarely at a loss for words, or willing to pass on an opportunity to criticize an opponent, but… um… wow. It rivals Demon Sheep and Herman Cain’s smoking mustache guy in the genre of classic weird political videos, but left me a bit confused about who the candidate is and what state she’s running in.”