SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — One of the youngest teens ever tried as an adult in California, for the fatal shooting of a pizza deliveryman nearly 24 years ago, should be paroled from prison, a state panel recommended Wednesday.
Tony Hicks was 14 when he killed Tariq Khamisa during a botched robbery that a group of San Diego gang members and wannabes had concocted. He was prosecuted under a state law that just weeks earlier had lowered the age at which teens could be tried as adults.
Hicks, now 38, cried as he was grilled Wednesday about the murder. “I was an angry, selfish, violent young man,” he responded. “I had no respect for authority.”
Khamisa’s father and sister asked the board to parole Hicks so that he can join their effort to deter young people from street gangs and violence.
“I’m elated and very relieved,” Azim Khamisa, the father of Tariq Khamisa, said after the panel announced its decision. “I never gave up hope it was going to happen.”
The lengthy hearing, held at the California Men’s Colony state prison in San Luis Obispo, was the first time that Hicks appeared before the board. Its two members pressed him about the 1995 murder and the 18 conduct violations, including for violence, drugs and gang activity, that he amassed while behind bars.
Hicks took responsibility for all of it, as he has done repeatedly in letters and interviews.
In the end, the panel concluded that his more recent years, which have been free of major violations, were the proof needed.
“You’re going to be worth way more to society out there than you are in here,” board member Kevin Chappell told Hicks.
The recommendation now goes to the full board. If it also agrees on parole, the governor will get the final word. The soonest Hicks could be released is early 2019, once credits are calculated for him being a youthful offender.
On the day he was sentenced in 1996, Hicks begged for forgiveness before receiving a prison term of 25 years to life. The initial plan had been for him to remain in a juvenile facility until age 24 and then be sent to an adult prison.
But because of a change in policy, Hicks was moved at 16, “with some of the most hardened adult offenders in the state,” according to Superior Court Judge Joan Weber, who sentenced Hicks. She recently wrote to the parole board supporting his release. “I accept his contrition and remorse,” Weber said.
The others with Hicks that long-ago night included the 18-year-old gang leader who handed him a stolen handgun and ordered him to shoot. That man was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Two other 14-year-olds who also were part of the robbery were sent to the California Youth Authority for rehabilitation. After being released as adults, both wound up back behind bars — one for carjacking, the other for sex trafficking.
Hicks has been in half a dozen prisons, including a maximum-security unit. “He was raised in prison,” defense attorney Laura Sheppard has noted.
Since 2003, more than 1,500 juveniles ages 14 and 15 have been sent to adult prisons in California, according to Human Rights Watch, which successfully campaigned to have the law overturned. A statute set to take effect Jan. 1 will return the age threshold to 16.
“There has been a sea change with juvenile justice since 1995,” Weber wrote.
In the months after Tariq’s death at 20, his father and Hicks’s grandfather began working to intervene with other youths. The two men have since given hundreds of presentations to school and community groups through the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.