Eric Eleson

A 2019 prison photo of Eric Richard Eleson, 70, who is serving a life term following a child sexual abuse conviction from 1994 in Tuolumne County.

A 70-year-old convicted child molestor and murderer serving a life term in California state prison following a child sexual abuse conviction from 1994 in Tuolumne County was denied an early release Friday during a parole suitability hearing.

Eric Richard Eleson was convicted of three counts of the felony lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 in the county and received a sentence of 85-years-to-life in prison, the county District Attorney's Office said in a news release on Wednesday.

Eleson became eligible for parole through the Early Elder Parole Program, which according to California law expanded it's eligibility at the start of the year.

Deputy District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke said where the child sexual assaults occurred in the county was not being released to preserve the privacy of two female victims.

The news release said an 8-year-old girl told her parents on Oct. 4, 1994, that Eleson molested her and her 6-year-old sister the night before.

At the time, Eleson was a family friend and computer repairman. He was at the home to fix the family computer when he entered the girls' rooms and inappropriately touched them multiple times.

Eleson had already been previously convicted of child sexual abuse in Hawaii and second-degree murder in San Mateo County.

The release said he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1970 and sentenced to six-months-to-life. He served five years. After, he accrued several misdemeanor convictions (one including solicitation of a prostitute) and parole violations.

He was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and bail jumping in Hawaii in 1984, the release stated, but did not identify any jail time. He was accused of first-degree sexual abuse of a 2-year old in Oregon in 1994 bfore he fled to Tuolumne County and was arrested on the new charges.

The Oregon charges were dismissed when he was sentenced to a life term in California, Jenecke said.

Though Eleson denied any wrongdoing, he was prosecuted under the California’s three strikes law, then a new statute. The law is meant to levy mandatory life sentences for habitual offenders that have two previous convictions before a severe violent felony.

Eleson also claimed to be a "sovereign citizen" at the time of his trial in 1994, Jenecke said.

Sovereign citizens deny the authority of the Constitution and other underlying statutes out of a claim that they have renounced their citizenship to the United States. In recent decades, the sovereign citizenship movement has been utilized to claim autonomy for arrest, criminal convictions and taxes. The movement is also commonly associated with far-right political extremism.

"I have at the trial level in both felonies and misdemeanors [dealt with sovereign citizens], but this is the first lifer hearing that I or anyone else has experienced it in," Jenecke said.

Eleson denied an attorney and a jury trial following the 1994 arrest as a result of his sovereign citizen beliefs. He was found guilty to three out of four counts of lewd and lascivious behavior with a child under 14 and sentenced by  Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge William G. Polley to 85-years-to-life in prison.

Jenecke said Eleson appealed the application of the three strikes law to his sentencing at the time it occured.

"The three strikes law was fairly new at the time, and he claimed that his prior murder did not qualify because the three strikes law was not in effect at the time he was convicted of his prior murder,” Jenecke said. “The California Supreme Court and all of the California Circuit courts disagreed with that argument in Eleson’s case and several other similar cases.”

Eleson, over the age of 60 and having served more than 25 years, became eligible for early elder parole in 2019.

Jenecke said the Early Elder Parole Program was established as a result of prison overcrowding after Feb. 10, 2014, when a federal court ordered the state to implement a parole process for inmates who were 60 years or older and who were incarcerated for at least 25 years.

The law was amended by Assembly Bill 3234 to include inmates over the age of 50 who have served at least 20 years in prison on Jan. 1 of this year, Jenecke said.

Eleson reaffirmed his sovereign citizen beliefs during a videoconference hearing with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Board of Parole Hearings on Friday and accused Jenecke of not being a licensed attorney. He also accused the parole board’s deputy commissioner of not being an employee of the state and refused to speak to a CDCR psychologist for a risk of reoffending assessment (he was rated moderate). 

"Eleson demonstrated little insight into the causative factors that led to his extensive criminal history and his potential pedophilia," the news release said. "Eleson took no responsibility for his actions and blamed others for his convictions." 

The release stated he made little effort toward self-help or rehabilitation. It also said he believed it was appropriate for him to be around children at home and in public settings.

The commissioners on the board deliberated for 10 minutes before denying him early release. His next parole hearing will be in five years, though he can advance his case after three years.

Jenecke said Eleson was not eligible for any other form of early release due to new laws.

Former Sonora resident and convicted murderer Cheyenne Knox, 51, was denied parole last week after a hearing held under the same program, Jenecke said. Knox was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder of Yvette Stagno, of Sonora, who was 19 at the time of her death on July 17, 1988.

Knox, who pleaded guilty before a trial could be held, committed the murder in 1988 when he was 17 and lied about his dog instructing him how to do it in an effort to avoid being found guilty. It was his fifth parole denial since 2004.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.