CLOVIS, Calif. -- A man convicted of killing a developmentally disabled Clovis, Calif. man more than 40 years ago will be set free from prison.
In November 1980, David Weidert lured 20-year-old Mike Morganti out of his apartment and tortured him for 45 minutes before stabbing him and strangling him.
Morganti was then forced to dig his own grave, and as he went up to grasp for life one more time, Weidert pushed his head back down into the dirt.
The killing was after Morganti spoke to law enforcement about a burglary committed by Weidert in which he had used the victim as a lookout.
After the killing, Weidert was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom blocked Weidert's release from prison.
Newsom took no action last Friday on the state parole board's latest decision granting parole to Weidert, his office said Monday, meaning that Weidert, 58, is now eligible for release.
His slaying of 20-year-old Fresno-area resident Michael Morganti has in years past drawn the attention of state lawmakers from the Fresno region who have publicly lobbied against Weidert's release.
Newsom blocked Weidert's parole last year, saying then that he "currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time." Then-Gov. Jerry Brown similarly reversed release recommendations for Weidert in 2016 and 2018.
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Newsom this year accepted the finding of the Board of Parole Hearings, "which determined that he does not pose a current unreasonable risk to public safety," his office said Monday without elaborating.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, who has opposed Weidert's parole, did not immediately comment.
Newsom, a Democrat, faces a recall election on September 14, and some of his Republican opponents have criticized his emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation amid a 31% increase in homicides in California last year during the coronavirus pandemic.
Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson, who has lobbied against Weidert's release for years, accused Newsom of siding with criminals: "The man who tortured and murdered a mentally disabled young man goes free while his family is forced to relive the horror."
Morganti had served as a look-out as Weidert committed the burglary.
Weidert, who was 17 at the time, killed Morganti after he spoke to law enforcement, prosecutors said previously.
Weidert and a 16-year-old accomplice then lured Morganti into a car and took him to an isolated place and forced him to dig his own grave. They beat him with a baseball bat and a shovel, stabbed him with a knife and choked him with a telephone wire.
Morganti eventually suffocated after he was buried alive.
Weidert was a youthful offender who has "an impeccable prison record" and four psychological assessments saying he would be of little risk if released, said his attorney, Charles Carbone.
"Mr. Weidert understands the gravity of his crime and the permanent seriousness of the consequences to the victim and the victim's family. He's somebody who has always emphasized his remorse and his acceptance of responsibility," Carbone said.
He added: "This is about promoting public safety, and Mr. Weidert has earned his way out by pursuing a very long and arduous path of rehabilitation."
The Associated Press contributed to this report