District Attorney Candice Hooper on Thursday explained her reasoning for a plea deal in the case against Michael Simas – accused in the 2017 killing of Hollister’s Lisa Hall – which is set to result in a five-year prison sentence.
Hooper in an interview with San Benito Live said the prosecution’s case was limited because Simas was the only witness present when Hall was shot.
“The only evidence we truly have is his statement itself,” Hooper said. “We have nothing to refute his statement. Given the state of the evidence, that’s what we had.”
Hooper is agreeing to a no contest plea in the case. The arrangement reduces charges from voluntary manslaughter to involuntary manslaughter, resulting in four years behind bars, and a potential 10-year enhancement for use of a gun in a felony is being reduced to one year. That will result in a five-year sentence, a year and seven months of which Simas has already served.
“Counsel found case law that said you had to show the weapon was being used in a menacing manner,” Hooper added. “I lost that enhancement.”
Hooper preferred not to go into specific circumstances about the night of Hall’s death before sentencing March 21.
“In essence, he is presenting that it was an accidental shooting, and his actions were careless in that there was criminal liability for it,” she said. “But that criminal liability does not amount to homicide. It amounts to manslaughter.”
Hooper said although the sentence is lighter than what she originally pursued, she wanted to make sure Simas receives time in state prison as opposed to just county jail.
“I believe this is a state prison case and he needed to be in prison,” she said.
Hollister police arrested Simas on Aug. 9, 2017 on suspicion of homicide, but Hooper filed lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter, defined as killing someone upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion but without malice. If found guilty of the D.A.’s original charge of voluntary manslaughter, Simas would have faced up to 11 years in prison on that charge alone as opposed to a potential life sentence with a homicide conviction.
In analyzing the decision of whether to continue pursuing the voluntary manslaughter charge, Hooper said she reached out to surrounding counties’ prosecutors to get their feedback on whether the stiffer penalty was warranted given the evidence.
“And given the circumstances of the case and that, three different counties said no,” Hooper said regarding prosecutors who specialize in homicide.
Hooper added that because the San Benito County D.A.’s office is relatively small, she seeks advice from neighboring counties on major issues.
“I take their advisement under consideration,” she said.
Hooper acknowledged that family and friends of the victim will have their say on the matter at the sentence hearing set for 9 a.m. next Thursday at the San Benito County Courthouse.
“I’m sure emotions will run high, and nothing any of us can do will change what happened,” she said.
Hall died after being dropped at the local hospital following the shooting. Police arrested Simas and recommended charges of murder and destruction of evidence. After Hall’s death, Simas agreed to meet with police detectives and answer questions as to how she was shot and killed on Aug. 8, 2017. He arrived at the police department with his attorney.
Simas, represented by attorney Harry Damkar, remains at the San Benito County Jail on $750,000 in bail. Damkar has not returned calls regarding the case.