Murder charge in Fresno County chase case could break new ground in California law

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County prosecutors could break new ground with a murder charge filed Tuesday against a man accused of killing his passenger when he crashed during a police chase.

Cline Garner left behind a huge mess when he tried to get away from Fresno County sheriff's deputies who suspected him in a series of car burglaries.

He wrecked a motorcycle at almost 100 miles per hour and killed his passenger, Gaylene Herrera, according to deputies.

Prosecutors charged him with evading arrest causing death in July, but they filed a murder case against him Tuesday.

Garner has a big stack of criminal cases in his past and the district attorney's office is pointing to his most recent conviction in 2018.

He went to prison for stealing a car and getting in a police chase exactly two years before the crash that killed Herrera.

Garner agreed to a plea deal and prosecutors say a judge warned him his behavior could've been deadly.

But legal analysts say they haven't seen a prior police chase used to make the next one a murder if someone dies.

"I mean, it could be groundbreaking," said legal analyst Mark Coleman. "I know the issue's been litigated once before, but that was under the felony murder rule and in that case, they held this was not a qualifying predicating felony."

The felony murder rule says you can be charged with murder if someone dies while you're committing a small number of violent felonies -- like rape, robbery, or arson -- not evading arrest.

So prosecutors are going after Garner like drunk drivers who kill someone after already having a DUI conviction.

"You did it before," Coleman said. "You should be aware of the consequences of that kind of conduct. That a reasonable person in your person would understand that death is almost certain to result from this kind of conduct."

Garner came to court Tuesday with the help of a cane, but the judge wouldn't allow us to capture video of him.

He's due back next week to enter a plea on the murder charge.
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