Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dallo Pleads Guilty

Almost six months ago, Jodi Burnett — delivering newspapers on her regular pre-dawn route — was killed by a recklessly speeding teenager, Jonny Dallo of Jamul. I’ve posted about this case several times (in chronological order): here, here, here, here, here, and here.

This tragic case generated a huge amount of local interest and emotional heat, with a couple of general perspectives emerging. One perspective, which I share, is that Jonny Dallo’s choice to recklessly speed was the proximate cause of Jodi Burnett’s death, and he should be held accountable for having made that choice. The other perspective holds that Jodi’s death was a tragic accident, and that we should mourn both Jodi’s death and the pain the accident caused Jonny Dallo and his family. Another couple of factors also contributed to the furor: Jonny Dallo’s father happens to be a very successful businessman, and the Dallo family happens to be Chaldean. As feelings ran high immediately following Jodi’s death, some quite ugly prejudice against both successful businessmen and against Chaldeans emerged.

Jonny Dallo (after being pulled from his car at the scene with no major injuries) was brought before the court, where he pled “not guilty.” The community wondered what would happen in the following trial, with a well-funded defense fighting the charges. This Thursday events took another turn, as Jonny Dallo entered a guilty plea (from the San Diego Union-Tribune):

A 19-year-old Jamul man pleaded guilty in Superior Court yesterday to vehicular manslaughter charges in connection with a June crash that killed a newspaper carrier.

Jonathan Dallo faces up to six years in prison at a Feb. 8 sentencing hearing set by Judge Herbert J. Exarhos, prosecutor Terrie Roberts said in an interview.

Dallo was charged with causing a June 29 car crash on state Route 94 at Rancho Miguel Road that killed 40-year-old Jodi Burnett of Spring Valley, a carrier for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The prosecutor said Dallo was going more than 90 mph in the left-turn lane around 4 a.m. when he slammed into the rear of the Ford F-150 truck Burnett was driving.

Burnett was waiting to turn left from eastbound state Route 94 onto Rancho Miguel Road, police said. The impact threw the truck onto its side on the westbound side of Route 94, police said. Burnett, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the cab.

Judge Exarhos is a locally well-known judge who’s been involved in quite a few high profile cases over the years, including the Andy Williams high school shooting case, the de Santiago Lakeside postal hostage case, and former San Diego mayor Roger Hedgecock’s conspiracy case. Like most judges these days, he will allow plea bargains that short-circuit the trial process by the defendant negotiating a sentence agreement with the prosecutor, generally in return for reduced charges or sentences, or both.

The unexpected change of plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” — especially in the presence of a high-powered defense — strongly suggests to me that a plea bargain has been reached. I’ve not been able to find any public disclosure of such an arrangement, so probably we won’t know for certain until February 8th. But it’s hard to imagine what other reason there might be for Jonny changing his plea to “guilty"…

Plea bargains are, in general, a very controversial tool of the prosecutor (who has complete discretion about whether to entertain them). Their acceptance by judges is also controverial. But the notion is very well established in our system of jurisprudence at this point. Prosecutors often seek plea bargains, both to ensure some punishment on a weak case and to relieve their workload. I have some sympathy for the former reason, but none for the latter — the prosecutors represent the public, and the public’s interest is arguaby shortchanged by many plea bargains. Defendants often seek plea bargains as well, but their motivation is distinctly contrary to the public interest: they are seeking less punishment for their crime than the law dictates.

So in the case of Jonny Dallo, I worry that the high-power defense managed to convince the prosecutor that they had a weak case — and that they negotiated a light sentence agreement in return for the guilty plea.

We’ll see on February 8th.

I hope I’m wrong, as I believe it’s important for our community that Jonny Dallo be held accountable, under the law, for Jodi Burnett’s tragic and untimely death…


  1. In the old blog, Jon Hollmann said:
    The system necessarily encourages settlement, and there are numerous points during the course of a case to do so. Of course there was a “plea bargain"; it is common for certain charges to be dismissed in exchange for a plea to another charge. However, it is extremely unlikely there was an agreement as to sentencing. He will be interviewed by the Probation Department, who will prepare a report with its recommendations. At sentencing, the victim’s family can speak, the People will present their position, and then it’s up to the judge. This was not a weak case, to the contrary, the facts speak for themselves, and you should not assume or fear that a “high powered” defense convinced the prosecution of anything other than the appropriateness of a plea with serious sentencing possibilities.

  2. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    Absolutely the district attorney has a strong case!including a video of the crime. I hope the judge has the ability to see the consequences of this immatureact and make an example of this individual. I hope every member of the Burnett family gets to speak.

  3. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    I have seen a bunch of stuff on how spoiled Jonathon , how bad his driving history was, how people have seen him speeding and how his parents are somehow resposible for those actions. My questions is: why aren’t the people who know this information stepping up and contacting the District Attorney on the case or the probation department who is going to do the sentencing report, or the attorneys representing the Burnett family?

  4. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    Jonny is suppose to get sentenced tomorrow, Feb 8th. Pray for Jodi’s family.

  5. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    Why does it matter what Johnny’s ethnic background is? Why dies it matter that his dad is a successful businessman? Why are these things even being talked about? Why do people care whether or not he was spolied or rich?

    1. His background matters because a large majority of the Chaldean community that has moved into San Diego in the past 20 years, has built a reputation for themselves as arrogant, careless, rude, cruel towards women, and self righteous. I went to high school with the demographic and I witnessed the majority of them behaving this way. Infact, I have heard from the very mouths of schoolmates who are Chaldean that the general stereotype is accurate. The rich children in these families are often gifted expensive cars when they are old enough to drive. They park them in the Steele Canyon parkinglot on weekdays but come weekends they are drunk driving them through the streets. Check the records of the 94-east, so many rich teens from Steele causing drunk driving accidents back then. His background just explains why he would feel bold and confident enough to drive 90 down a highway that is really more of a road.