A man imprisoned for 24 years following the slaying of a fellow teen in a backyard drug brawl that destroyed lives and rocked a community was granted parole late last month.
Originally sentenced to life in prison at 18 years old, Brandon Hein, now 42, is expected to be released from prison by summer 2020.
Hein and three other boys ranging from 15 to 18 were convicted for the 1995 murder of Jimmy Farris, who was 16 at the time. The murder was committed while the four attempted to steal cannabis from Agoura Hills resident Michael McLoren, then 17. Farris was present at the time.
The robbery attempt at McLoren’s Old Agoura home devolved into a deadly fight in which McLoren and Farris were stabbed several times. Farris, a young man just entering the prime of his life, died as a result of his injuries.
Hein, from Oak Park, did not commit the stabbing, but because the assault occurred during a felony robbery—the theft of McLoren’s cannabis—all four assailants were charged under California’s felony murder rule, which held accomplices to the same standard as the person who committed the actual killing.
Convicted of first-degree murder instead of manslaughter, the three oldest defendants—Hein, Tony Miliotti and Jason Holland—were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Jason’s brother Micah Holland, who was 15 at the time, got 29 years to life. Accomplice Chris Velardo who drove a getaway vehicle was tried separately, went to youth corrections and was freed in 2000. Miliotti reportedly was released last year.
While many in the community grieved over the loss of young Farris, the life-without-parole sentence given to attackers who didn’t commit the killing created a groundswell of activism that worked in Hein’s favor. In 2009, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Hein’s sentence to allow the possibility of parole. A decade later, a parole board ruled Oct. 30 that he was eligible for release.
“We were always hoping for the best and it became reality,” said Gene Hein, the father. “We were never going to give up.”
A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections said Hein will now be subject to a five-month review period before his release from Avenal State Prison is granted.
“The first four months are for a staff review of all the factors and legal matters that led to the decision. If it passes muster, the suitability finding then goes to the governor’s office,” Luis Patino of the California Department of Corrections said. “The governor has 30 days to either uphold, reverse, or modify the decision. He may also send it to (be reconsidered). He may take no action, in which case the parole grant moves forward.”
Judie Farris, mother of Jimmy Farris, told the Acorn she hopes Hein, upon his release, will stay on the straight and narrow path.
“I want Brandon to be strong and to live a good life,” Farris said. “I want him not to do anything wrong to cause him to go back into prison, to stay away from drugs.”
Gene Hein also sought conciliation.
“We just want to respect the Farris family and their privacy,” he said. “We’re very supportive of everything they had to go through, and we wish them peace and comfort.”
On May 22, 1995, high school students Brando Hein, Tony Miliotti, Chris Velardo and brothers Jason Holland and Micah Holland were driving in Velardo’s truck. The teens had been drinking for much of the day.
Velardo stayed in the truck while the other four climbed a fence into McLoren’s backyard in search of drugs. McLoren was known to sell cannabis out of a clubhouse fort in his backyard.
McLoren and Farris were in the yard at the time and a disagreement ensued. The attackers pounced on McLoren, who had Micah Holland in a headlock and was pummeling him, a 2001 California Court of Appeals finding stated. Jason Holland took out a pocket knife that his friends were unaware he’d been carrying and stabbed McLoren in the back several times. Holland later said he acted in order to get McLoren to release his younger brother.
Farris entered the fray and Holland turned and stabbed the teen twice in the torso. Hein started beating Farris in the head and face. Farris buckled, unable to defend himself.
Farris and McLoren broke from the fight and ran inside McLoren’s house where they reported the incident to McLoren’s mother. She saw a stab wound in Farris’ chest and called 911. Farris died en route to the hospital. McLoren made a full recovery.
Witnesses reported seeing Hein and his friends leave the McLoren property, walking back to Velardo’s truck before driving away.
In a story fraught with deep sadness and broken lives, full closure may never come to those involved. While Brandon Hein could soon be free—a commuted sentence was also given to Jason Holland—Jimmy Farris will not be coming home. His memory lives on as families on both sides of the crime continue to heal.
“Losing a child . . . it’s unimaginable,” Judy Farris said. “I think about Jimmy every second of every day. He was such a special kid, and they ripped my heart out of my chest when they killed him.”
John Loesing contributed to this story.