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New bill seeks to keep cop killers behind bars
killed officers
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Lt. Al Stewart (left) and California Highway Patrol Officer Larry Wetterling. - photo by Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Police Protective League

State Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) has introduced a new bill seeking to keep anyone convicted of killing a peace officer from obtaining an early release for medical parole or compassionate release.

Galgiani introduced Senate Bill 6, also known as the Al Stewart Act, sponsored by the California Narcotic Officers Association. This legislation would ensure that no one who has been convicted of murdering a peace officer will be eligible for medical parole or compassionate release.

"The murder of any law enforcement officer is a brazen and callous act of violence against the very system we have in place to protect us all. If law enforcement isn't safe — no one is safe," said Galgiani.

The legislation was sparked by the attempt of Stewart’s killer, Gerald Youngberg, to seek an early release for medical reasons. Youngberg killed San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Lt. Al Stewart and California Highway Patrol Officer Larry Wetterling in 1973. Youngberg was driving a stolen car and got a flat tire. When Wetterling stopped to help him, Youngberg shot and killed him. He then stole his service weapon and fled in the patrol car. He later killed Robert Jenkins, a gas station attendant, and then Stewart during the police search. Youngberg was initially sentenced to death, but the sentenced was overturned to a life sentence with the possibility of parole in the 1970s.

In 2012, Youngberg applied for a compassionate release because he had suffered a stroke in prison and was confined to a wheelchair. California Senate Bill 1399 allows for any prisoner declared permanently medically incapacitated with a medical condition and needing 24-hour care eligible for early release. The only exception is for prisoners condemned to death or life without the possibility of parole. Youngberg was ultimately denied his medical parole.

The prospect that other inmates convicted of killing peace officers could get an early release prompted Galgiani to introduce the bill.

"This disregard for life and those who put their lives on the line each and every day, won’t be tolerated.”

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson agreed. He’d like to see the law protect officers who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

“If you kill a peace officer in the State of California, you should never be released from prison,” said Christianson.