Family, detectives call Saugus murder charges a ‘miscarriage of justice’

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies investigate a stabbing on Fir Court in Saugus on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Tim Whyte/The Signal

Detectives and loved ones described the charges filed Monday by the District Attorney’s Office against James “Matthew” Dorsey — the estranged husband accused of stabbing his wife to death in Saugus last week — as a “miscarriage of justice.” 

Officials said the five counts filed against Dorsey, which include one count of murder and one count of kidnapping, will result in him possibly facing a maximum 20 years in prison, when accounting for elder parole and good behavior, should he be convicted of all the charges. 

On Monday, detectives presented their findings to the D.A., expressing their confidence that they can show Dorsey illegally entered the Fir Court home last Thursday and murdered Michelle Dorsey, 39, according to sheriff’s officials.  

However, both family members and law enforcement expressed anger Tuesday that the charges listed in the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors didn’t include sentencing enhancements — a way in which the prosecutors can add additional years to sentences, if there are certain extenuating circumstances in a case.  

Investigators took the rare step Tuesday in criticizing the D.A.’s Office for not filing a handful of enhancements, such as murder in commission of a burglary, murder during the course of a kidnapping and lying-in wait. Those additional charges, plus any possible weapons enhancements, would have resulted in life without parole, should the 41-year-old be convicted of Michelle Dorsey’s murder, officials said.   

“It’s a total miscarriage of justice,” Lt. Barry Hall of the Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau, who supervised the investigation, said Tuesday. “He’s going to be eligible for parole in 20 years.” 

Family members also expressed anger over the decision when reached for comment. 

“No family should have to worry about if the person who murdered their loved ones, one day will be set free,” said Danielle Quemuel, a lifelong friend of Michelle Dorsey’s and spokeswoman for the Dorsey family. “I couldn’t agree more with the detectives on the case. This is a ‘miscarriage of justice,’ and I will be their voice and fight for them.” 

The application of sentencing enhancements in L.A. County criminal cases has been heavily restricted in recent months, following a series of new directives from District Attorney George Gascón. In addition to eliminating cash bail for a number of offenses and halting prosecutors’ pursuit of the death penalty, Gascón ordered when he first entered office last December that prosecutors heavily throttle back their requests for enhancements once the investigators have submitted their findings for a trial.   

Officials from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office told The Signal on Tuesday that the charges filed against Dorsey by their office were “consistent with our policy.”  

During a community meeting Monday, Sheriff Alex Villanueva gave Gascón credit for being consistent in the administration of his policies, but said the Dorsey case was a “horrendous” crime and the county’s top lawyer is failing to acknowledge “the devastating impact” the special orders are having.    

Villanueva expressed his belief that reducing sentences can motivate someone who has already made the mental decision to kill one person to kill as many witnesses as possible to ensure their escape from justice.  

“Eliminating consequences to all these violent and horrendous crimes, serial crimes, you’re incentivizing (and) you’re molding people that are already criminal, or criminally inclined, to continue these criminal acts,” said Villanueva. “You’re not improving the situation, and then coming up with weak excuses that somehow this is going to improve recidivism by going easier on violent crime? (This) does not improve recidivism.” 

Villanueva’s detective agreed with his sheriff, saying that homicides have been up 130% throughout Los Angeles County, and Hall expressed his belief that the new policies contribute to this rise.  

“Criminals have lost their fear of the D.A.’s Office,” said Hall. “He’s not filing the charges that he could file.” 

On Monday, Dorsey appeared in court for his arraignment, which was ultimately continued to May 3. During an arraignment, defendants are asked to enter a plea to the charges levied against them. 

Dorsey has been accused of one count of each of the following: murder, attempted kidnapping, residential burglary, evading police and resisting a law enforcement officer. The degree of murder was not declared as that process generally occurs in later stages of a case.  

L.A. County Sheriff’s Department arrest records indicate Dorsey is being held at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in lieu of $1 million bail. 

“Most of the time when a suspect is caught, you believe that more than likely justice will be served,” said Quemuel. “But recently, since Gascón has been in office, we are finding that to be far from the truth.” 

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