Sonora, California –– Tuolumne County District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke announced today that on July 31, 2023, Derek Wooden was re-sentenced to 16 years State Prison for violations of Voluntary Manslaughter and Robbery.
Mr. Wooden was originally found guilty of Murder and Attempted Murder on November 14, 2003 by a jury. During the trial, Melissa Berry, identified Mr. Wooden as participating in the robbery that led to the shooting death of Donald Hopkins and Ms. Berry being shot in the head. Mr. Wooden was never alleged to have been the shooter, but an active participant in the robbery.
While the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office was investigating the murder of Craig Hale in 2021 and 2022 (a murder of which Steven Berrigan was ultimately convicted), numerous individuals in the community brought up the murder of Mr. Hopkins and provided statements. When the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office learned of this potential new evidence, as well as new statements made after Mr. Wooden’s conviction in 2003, all information was provided to Mr. Wooden’s defense counsel. This re-investigation also coincided with a change in the law related to the Felony Murder rule under Penal Code section 1170.95 and 1172.6.
In light of potentially new information uncovered by the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s took the following steps:
- Created a Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU);
- Assigned a Deputy District Attorney and the Investigation Bureau to review all evidence discovered at time of jury trial;
- Reviewed all trial transcripts;
- Evaluated any new information or evidence obtained;
- Interviewed and re-interviewed witnesses; and
- Assessed all relevant changes in the law.
After analyzing all of the evidence, statements and transcripts available, the CIU determined that there was no new evidence that exonerated Mr. Wooden or proved his innocence. However, the CIU did acknowledge that some of the new evidence could possibly be grounds for granting a new trial to Mr. Wooden. Given the fact that the District Attorney’s Office was materially prejudiced by the passage of time since the original trial and the fact that the sole eyewitness had since passed away, it was the recommendation of the CIU that the District Attorney exercise her discretion granted in Penal Code section 1172.1 to recommend the resentencing of Mr. Wooden in the interests of justice. The resentencing recommendation from the District Attorney was not in response to any motion that was filed by the defense, but rather done after careful consideration of the evidence presented at the jury trial, new evidence obtained, and the extent of Mr. Wooden’s involvement in the robbery that led to the death of Mr. Hopkins. The pleas of guilty to Voluntary Manslaughter and Robbery were entered on July 6, 2023.
The Conviction Integrity Unit that was formed to analyze and address the issues raised in Mr. Wooden’s case and is now a permanent unit in the District Attorney’s Office. Information regarding the Conviction Integrity Unity can be found on the District Attorney’s website.