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Family of a man imprisoned under California's old felony murder rule is hopeful he will be free soon

A change to California's felony murder rule could be a second chance for one Kern County man.
Justice for Cedric Struggs
Posted at 6:09 PM, Oct 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 21:20:08-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Under a defunct law in California known as the felony murder rule, a person could be convicted of felony murder if a victim died while that person participated in any part of a felony offense regardless of whether they were the one who actually killed the victim. A new rule under California Senate Bill 1437 changes that, meaning many, including one Kern County man, could get another chance at living.

Cedric Struggs was only 18 years old when he went to prison 40 years ago. Struggs was in court Tuesday, and with the felony-murder rule changing under law, his mother Doris Shotwell is hoping that any day now, her son will come back home.

“Even if he had did it, 42 years… boy, that’s a long time,” said Shotwell.

Shotwell has fought for her son’s release for years. Struggs was put in prison back in 1981 under California’s felony murder rule.

According to appeals court documents, in 1980, Struggs and two other men entered a gas station in Bakersfield intending to rob it. During the robbery, one of the men Struggs was with shot two people, killing one of them. Struggs was not the person who fired the gun.

“They convicted my son and (Jacobs) said he thought my son did it,” said Shotwell. “And the witness that got shot said she didn’t even see it.”

During the 1980s, California law allowed a person to be convicted of felony murder if a person died while a felony was in progress. In 2019, SB 1437 went into effect. The new law refines when the felony murder rule can be applied.

According to SB 1437, a person is guilty of felony murder if he or she commits, attempts, or participates in a felony; AND one of the following is true:

  1. He or she kills a person,
  2. he or she aids or abets in committing a murder in the first degree with an intent to kill,
  3. he or she was a “major participant” in the felony and acted with “reckless indifference to human life, or
  4. because of the defendant’s acts, a peace officer was killed while engaged in the performance of his or her duties

Because of this change in the law, the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta told 23ABC that the AG agrees Struggs’ case should be returned to Superior Court for a new hearing regarding how SB 1437 applies.
On Wednesday, Struggs appeared in court for his resentencing hearing. The hearing was continued to Thursday.

“I don’t know why they want to keep holding him, because if that was their son, they wouldn’t want them to be in there 42 years and he didn’t have a gun,” said Shotwell.

According to his mother, Struggs has a disability and was already below an average IQ level when he went to prison.

“Then when he got in prison, he couldn’t spell ‘Bakersfield’ even to write to me, and he said ‘Mom, I had to get people to read the letters for me,’ so that’s hard,” said Shotwell. “And the prison they sent him to was really bad, so he’s in there fighting.”

Struggs’ friend Sandra Broussard says while it has been hard for him, Struggs has also learned a lot during his time behind bars, and his family and friends want him to be able to use that.

“The last part of his life he’ll be able to spend it here in the world, and do what he wasn’t able to do in his younger days,” said Broussard. “And give him the strength to do what he learned in the prison and what he went through, and do better when he gets out.”

Broussard says Struggs has been in prison long enough.

“I was justice for Cedric because he went in there as a child and I feel like he has done his time,” said Broussard.

Shotwell also thinks her son has paid his debt and just wants him to be free.

“42 years and this April is going to be 43 years. He was 18 years old and now he’s 60 years old,” said Shotwell, herself 80 years old and wanting her son home to help take care of her.

When asked about her plans for the day her son is free, she lights up.

“Oh boy, it’s gonna be a joy! He’s gonna have a time,” said Shotwell. “First we gonna go to the church and say a prayer over him that the Lord will bless him, and I know he’s gonna do good.”

Struggs is due back in court Thursday morning at 9:00. 23ABC will continue to follow this case and bring you any new details as soon as they become available.