Tuolumne County District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke announced today that on May 11, 2021, 51-year-old Rocco Angelo Costanza was denied release at a parole hearing held via videoconference. This was Costanza’s initial parole suitability hearing.
On June 4, 2013, Costanza attacked Laurel Young-Buchanan and Jeffrey Buchanan unprovoked while they were walking their dog in the City of Sonora. Costanza approached the Buchanans and asked how they were doing in a sing-song voice. After responding, the Buchanans continued on their walk. Upon their return, they observed Costanza acting strange. Costanza got into a football play position and charged the Buchanans, making animal. Costanza scooped Mrs. Buchanan up and threw her to the street. Costanza then picked up Mr. Buchanan like a ragdoll and slammed him repeatedly into the sidewalk until he lost consciousness and quit moving. Costanza then fled the scene while imitating the moves of a monkey. Mrs. Buchanan suffered visible injuries to her arms and legs, and Mr. Buchanan was unresponsive upon law enforcement’s arrival at the scene. He suffered a concussion and . Officers eventually located Costanza, who was agitated, angry, and uncooperative. He was later identified by Mrs. Buchanan as the culprit. The case proceeded to trial where a jury found Costanza guilty of battery causing serious injury, a serious felony, and a felony assault likely to cause great bodily injury.
Prior to this incident, Costanza had extensive criminal history. He had previously suffered at least one conviction for robbery, a violent felony, in 1991. He then suffered several misdemeanor convictions and was eventually sentenced to prison in 1995. He subsequently violated parole at least four times and received a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction in 2006. In 2013, the defendant was given the extraordinary opportunity to be on felony probation for a felony violation of criminal threats. This was extraordinary because Costanza was statutorily ineligible for probation due to his prior robbery conviction, but he was given the opportunity through a plea negotiation to be on probation, rather than go to prison, for that 2013 conviction. Unfortunately, Costanza committed his offense against the Buchanans a mere three months after being placed on felony probation.
Because of his criminal history, the severity of his actions, and his unsuccessful performance on parole and probation, Costanza was sentenced in this case by the Honorable James A. Boscoe to thirty-seven years and 8 months to life in prison.
At the hearing on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, Costanza refused to attend. He also refused to stipulate to a denial or to a waiver of his hearing. Therefore, the hearing proceeded in his absence. The District Attorney’s Office was represented by District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke and Victim Witness Coordinator Ginger Martin. They were most importantly accompanied by survivors Laurel and Jeffrey Buchanan.
During the hearing, it became readily apparent that Costanza had continued to engage in anti-social and criminal behavior while in prison, sustaining over six serious rule violations. Moreover, the Board was unable to assess Costanza’s mental health status because a Comprehensive Risk Assessment (CRA) was not prepared for Costanza. The DA’s Office received notice that because of the increased number of prisoners eligible for parole due to COVID-19, CDCR and the Board of Parole Hearings has been unable to keep up with the demand for CRAs. These psychological evaluations typically form a critical component of the Board’s assessment of an inmate’s current risk of dangerousness. Here, the Board determined they would move forward with Costanza’s hearing despite not having a CRA because he had been found guilty of two or more serious rules violations.
The commissioners engaged in a review of Costanza’s case and the Buchanans also gave victim impact statements. The commissioners deliberated for approximately ten minutes and found Costanza was not suitable for parole based on his continued risk to society. The commissioners denied Costanza a parole hearing for ten years despite Jenecke’s request for a fifteen-year denial. The Board found that Costanza’s minimal engagement in work activities and mental health services while incarcerated constituted mitigating circumstances warranting a ten, rather than fifteen, year denial. Costanza will be eligible to petition to advance his case after three years.
It is important to note the timing of Costanza’s initial suitability hearing. Proposition 57, passed in 2016, allowed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to enact regulations giving inmates additional custody credit. Prior to the passage of Proposition 57, a “third-striker” like Costanza would not have been eligible for parole until he served had served at least twenty-five years of the base term of his sentence. However, because his latest strike conviction was statutorily designated as only a “serious” rather than a “violent” felony, he became eligible for parole after serving only seven years of his sentence. It also allows him to accrue good time/work time credits, which a life-term inmate would have had been denied prior to the passage of Proposition 57. CDCR continues to utilize this almost unilateral control over credit allotment to continue giving dangerous felons opportunities to parole early, as demonstrated on April 30, 2021, when CDCR initiated use of “emergency regulations” to increase credit accrual. These type of regulations re-victimize our survivors by risking release of their abusers prior to the time assessed at sentencing and increasing the number of times they have to appear at parole hearings.
Our Office especially wants to the thank the Buchanans for their bravery in reporting this crime, testifying at trial, giving statements at sentencing, being present at this initial parole hearing, and promising to be present at every one of Costanza's hearings.
For More Information, Please Contact:
|District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke (209) 588 - 5450|