Woman at center of Gascón juvenile sentencing controversy takes plea deal in Kern County killing

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 17: District Attorney George Gascón to speaks at Justice Reform Rally after surviving a second recall campaign on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón speaks at a rally in August 2022. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Hannah Tubbs — whose prosecution on sexual assault charges in 2021 marked one of the biggest controversies of L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón's first term — pleaded no contest Tuesday in the killing of a homeless man in Kern County, prosecutors said.

Tubbs, 27, entered the plea to charges of voluntary manslaughter, robbery and witness intimidation in the 2019 killing of Michael Clark near Lake Isabella, according to Kern County Dist. Atty. Cynthia Zimmer.

Prosecutors filed murder charges against Tubbs last May, months after Gascón faced criticism for allowing Tubbs to be tried as a juvenile for the sexual assault of a child inside an Antelope Valley restaurant in 2014.

Tubbs was 17 at the time of the assault but wasn't linked to the attack until 2019, after police obtained her DNA when she was arrested in another state. By the time the case worked its way into an L.A. County courtroom, Gascón had been elected on a reform platform that included a blanket ban on trying juveniles as adults.

The case exploded into a national debate over criminal justice reform early last year when Fox News obtained recordings of Tubbs bragging about receiving a light sentence on a jailhouse phone call and making crass remarks about her victim, who was 10 at the time of the attack.

Read more: D.A. George Gascón faces 9 challengers in one of the largest primary fields in L.A. history

The Times later obtained law enforcement documents largely corroborating the Fox report and Gascón even questioned whether Tubbs, who is a transgender woman, had lied about her gender identity in order to receive lenient treatment.

“It’s unfortunate that she gamed the system,” Gascón said in an interview with The Times last year. “If I had to do it all over again, she would be prosecuted in adult court.”

The case led Gascón to backpedal on his juvenile policy and create a committee that could approve requests to try juveniles as adults. The panel has approved only one such case, but a judge later ruled that defendant should still be tried as a juvenile, citing changes in California law.

The L.A. County district attorney's office did not respond to an inquiry about Tubbs' plea. Kern County prosecutors were investigating the homicide at the same time Tubbs' case was playing out in L.A. County last year.

In the Kern County case, Tubbs was charged with killing Clark after an argument at a homeless encampment where the two were living in April 2019. Clark's body was not found until four months later. The local medical examiner's office ruled that his drowning death was not an accident or suicide, according to Kern County Deputy Dist. Atty. Cole Sherman, who prosecuted Tubbs.

Sherman said Clark also suffered broken ribs, indicating a struggle.

Tubbs faces up to 15 years in prison at sentencing, according to Zimmer, who called the defendant a "dangerous individual."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.