Tony Hicks
A photo of Tony Hicks taken during his incarceration. Image: The Tariq Khamisa Foundation

The state Board of Parole on Wednesday granted parole for a onetime gang member who was 14 when he shot and killed a 20-year-old college student and pizza deliveryman during an attempted robbery in San Diego in 1995.

The father and sister of the victim traveled to the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo in support of parole for Tony Hicks, who was the first youth in California to be tried as an adult under a law adopted in 1995 that allowed juveniles as young as 14 to be tried as adults for murder.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Senate Bill 1391, which eliminates the ability to try a defendant under the age of 16 as an adult for any violent crime. Those convicted under the new law will be held in locked juvenile facilities instead of adult prisons.

Hicks, now 38, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Tariq Khamisa and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He has served 23 years.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office did not formally oppose or favor parole for Hicks, but provided the Parole Board with a lengthy letter outlining key considerations and public safety concerns, spokesman Steve Walker said in a statement. Typically, prosecutors formally oppose parole at an inmate’s first hearing, especially if that person has committed a violent act in prison.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Hicks — during his two-plus decades years in prison — was cited for numerous violations for misconduct, including attacking a correctional officer with a homemade knife in 2002.

“This case is unique and compelling,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan, who also traveled to the prison for the parole hearing. “As an adult, Mr. Hicks committed a serious, violent offense during his incarceration several years after the murder. We also consider his young age at the time of the murder, the fact that he has been free of violations in prison for two years, and the support he has waiting for him on the outside, which are all factors in his favor.

“Ultimately, the parole board weighed all those factors and made a decision based on whether or not he poses an unreasonable, current threat to public safety,” Stephan said. “I respect the board’s decision as well as the views of the victim’s family, who have turned their personal tragedy into a force for good. It’s my sincere hope that Mr. Hicks will become a productive member of the community upon his release.”

The parole board’s decision will be subject to review by the governor, who will have 30 days to reject or accept it.

After the murder, the victim’s father, Azim Khamisa, founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation and reached out to Hicks’ grandfather, Ples Felix, who accompanied him and his daughter to the parole hearing.

“We are totally elated (that) Tony was paroled,” Khamisa said, as he stood in front of the prison.

Before the hearing, he said: “If this law (SB 1391) had been in effect in 1995, Tony would have been prosecuted in Juvenile Court and paroled many years ago. The other two individuals involved in the crime were sentenced in Juvenile Court. Tony made a mistake. He has atoned for it in many ways. He has paid his debt to society. It is time for him to be released.”

Tasreen Khamisa also supported the release of her brother’s killer. She said that when he was 16, an immature Hicks was incarcerated with some of the most hardened adult offenders in the state at Folsom Prison.

She said the plan is “to bring Tony onto the staff at TKF where he can share his powerful message about the consequences of violence and the benefits of restorative justice with thousands of youth. The bottom line is that our kids need Tony. He will have a powerful voice in helping stop youth violence.”

In preparation for his second chance at freedom, Hicks has earned his GED and college credits toward an associate’s degree, according to the foundation. He has also been writing a blog for the TKF website, answering students’ questions.

The Tariq Khamisa Foundation “is dedicated to teaching and inspiring forgiveness, hope and peace in youth and setting them on a path towards opportunity,” according to the San Diego nonprofit’s mission statement.

— City News Service