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OAKLAND — Daniela Guzman was 17 years old when she was accused of helping orchestrate the murder plot of a Newark High School football player. But on Friday afternoon, more than eight years later, she wiped away tears of joy in court when the judge told her she would be released from custody.

Because of changes to the law, the now 25-year-old woman who was convicted of second-degree murder, is expected to be released from Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, then from prison after paperwork is processed, her sister said Saturday. She may be the first in Alameda County to benefit from the new law, which went into effect Jan. 1 of this year.

On Friday afternoon in the courtroom of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson, her supporters erupted in cheers and applause — crying, hugging and celebrating that Guzman would be coming home.

Daniela Guzman (Newark Police Dept.) 

“Ms. Guzman, good luck to you,” Jacobson said as she hugged her attorney, Ernie Castillo, tears streaming down her face.

When asked what this meant for her sister to be released, Patty Guzman said, “Everything.”

“It’s been six years,” her sister said.

Besides defending her in her criminal case, Guzman’s attorney, Castillo, had also worked with her and her family in appeals, and other petitions in changes to the law throughout the years.

“I’ve been fighting for Daniela Guzman for five years at this point,” Castillo said outside the courtroom. “I’m so happy for Daniela and her family.”

Guzman was convicted in June 2015 of the second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit assault of Justice Afoa, a 17-year-old football player who was stabbed to death Dec. 10, 2010. She was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. Her older brother, Rafael Tovar, and his fellow gang member Daniel Howard were convicted of fatally stabbing Afoa.

But because of a new law that went into effect this month and a petition her attorney filed on her behalf, she became eligible to have her murder conviction overturned, and subsequently released.

Jacobson re-sentenced her to the charge of conspiracy to commit assault, plus a gang enhancement that was found true at the time of her conviction. But because of time already served since her arrest in December 2012, she can be released.

“The jury expressly determined that Ms. Guzman did not have an intent to kill and found her not guilty accordingly of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder,” Castillo wrote in the petition.

The new law in essence states that even if the non-killer defendant’s actions led to the murder, but they did not have intent to kill, or were not a major participant in the murder, their conviction could be overturned.

Judge Jacobson in court said that he believes in the jury’s verdict, it rejected the “intent to kill.”

Guzman was never named as the actual killer, but her actions led to Afoa’s death, the prosecution argued at her trial in 2015. The prosecution maintained that Guzman and Tovar wanted Afoa dead because he put Tovar in the hospital back in September 2010. Tovar had picked a fight with Afoa’s friend, and Guzman’s ex-boyfriend.

The prosecution also argued that the murder would not have happened without Guzman’s direction, lies and manipulations when she was 17.

Guzman first tried to set up Afoa to be attacked at a 2010 Halloween party, where Justice and another boy were stabbed with a broken beer bottle, according to court documents. Tovar and Guzman’s cousin, Anthony Bernal, were sentenced to 12 years for stabbing that second teen.

The day Afoa was stabbed, Guzman was accused of telling his killers his whereabouts and what clothes he was wearing. Afoa was stabbed six times.

Marlene Sanchez, associate director of Communities United in Restorative Youth Justice, was approached by Guzman’s mother more than a year ago to work with the family. She said Friday they will continue to work with Guzman in getting her into her “dream school”: UC-Berkeley.


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