Lawyer: Jail unfair for nude driver

Sheriff argues fatal crash too serious for leniency

September 6, 2007 

The case of the naked housewife who caused a fatal wreck has gone into its third round of overtime, with Danise McFadden's fourth surrender date coming up Monday.

Hoping to ward off a 90-day jail sentence is defense attorney Ruben Villalobos, who filed a writ in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Wednesday challenging his client's detention by arguing that she is getting a disproportionately tough sentence because her case made headlines.

Villalobos has vigorously defended the Modesto mother of four, who was wrapped in a blanket and in the midst of what a psychiatrist called a mental health crisis when she plowed her pickup into a truck that was stopped at Claus Road and Briggsmore Avenue at 3 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2005.

And the district attorney's office has vigorously prosecuted McFadden, who was traveling 74 mph when she rear-ended Catalino Sanchez Astorga, who died in the hospital three weeks later, leaving behind a wife, four children and two grandchildren.

A jury found McFadden guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, but acquitted her of a felony charge prosecutors had filed.

McFadden, who has never been in trouble with the law, hoped to avoid time behind bars by getting a spot in a home detention or work program, but the Sheriff's Department denied her application and two appeals.

In the meantime, Villalobos convinced the court to extend McFadden's surrender date three times, moving it from July 16 to Aug. 13 to Aug. 27 to Monday. But he has not been able to convince Judge Ricardo Córdova to change McFadden's sentence to community service.

In legal papers, Villalobos argues that other offenders who have been convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, including Marina Yvette Pulido of Turlock, have been able to serve their sentences on home detention.

Pulido went to trial in Córdova's courtroom in spring 2006 and received the same 90-day sentence that McFadden was given.

In letters denying McFadden's application to a work or home detention program, the Sheriff's Department cites the loss of life, the seriousness of the offense, the Sanchez family's belief that McFadden should serve her time behind bars and that the case drew attention from The Bee.

Villalobos believes media coverage is at the heart of the disparity because McFadden's case generated 11 stories, four news briefs and a mention in a story, while Pulido's case generated one news brief and a mention in two stories.

"In the case without media scrutiny, (the alternative work program) was granted," Villalobos said in legal papers. "In the high publicity case, it was not."

Sheriff Adam Christianson said he adopted a new policy that denies jail alternative programs in cases involving great bodily injury or death when the case of Mick Vito Rubalcava landed on his desk. That was months after Pulido got a spot in a home detention program.

Rubalcava is the young man who tucked a loaded gun into his backpack and accidentally shot a classmate at California Beauty College in Modesto, leaving her paralyzed. He wanted to serve his 270-day sentence on home detention but was denied.

The sheriff said he received a lot of calls and letters on both sides of the debate and determined that McFadden, as well as people like her in the future, must face the same rules as Rubalcava.

"This is a tragic case for both parties and a very difficult decision for me," Christianson said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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