After serving 41-year murder sentence, Bakersfield man resentenced, to be released

Feb. 2—Doris Shotwell and her family can easily remember the murder sentence handed down by a Kern County Superior Court judge around 41 years ago sending Shotwell's 18-year-old son, Cedric Struggs, to prison.

They recalled those memories when Struggs, now 60, appeared in court Thursday to be resentenced after his murder conviction was vacated. A new law redefined felony murder and Struggs' actions didn't meet every element of that definition. Judge Gregory Pulskamp resentenced the father, grandfather and great-grandfather to four years in prison for robbery and assault — the only crimes for which Struggs would have been convicted if Senate Bill 1437 was in effect in 1980.

The 41-year sentence means Struggs will be released almost immediately. His attorney, deputy public defender Cynda Bunton, said that could happen in about two weeks.

Shotwell rejoiced after court and added she's already bought shirts, pants and shoes for her son. Her fridge bursts with food — such as pork and ribs — to cook for him when he's finally home.

"He said 'I'm going to take care of you now,'" Shotwell said of her son. "Because you (have) taken care of me all these 42 years."

Struggs has always said he wasn't there during the murder — a "cloud of clearness" overcame him upon learning the judge granted his petition for resentencing, he told The Californian during a jailhouse interview.

He also alleged a key witness during his trial wasn't truthful — that information was suggested in The Californian's 1980s reporting.


Struggs, Phillip Carter, 19, and Ronald Robinson, 20, went to a Hudson Gas Station on Union Avenue in July 1980 to reportedly rob money from the store. Gas station manager Alfred "Tex" Dishman, 49, died after Robinson fired rounds at his chest, Nettie Sanchez, 28, survived from a bullet hitting her shoulder and another person evaded bullets that Robinson shot while running away.

Dishman had everything going for him, The Californian reported in 1980. He planned to marry that year at Christmas — Dishman had just bought an engagement and wedding ring in May 1980 — and loved to be around his fiancee's family. Sanchez was his fiancee's daughter, The Californian reported.

"If the robbers asked him for money, I don't think Tex would have fought them for it," Dishman's neighbor, Geraldine "Jerry" Sharder, told The Californian.

"He was a wonderful, happy-go-lucky guy," Sharder added. "You couldn't beat him. He'd do anything for anybody."

Struggs denied he was there during the shooting. A single man — Leonard Ray Hickman — placed Struggs at the scene. Sanchez could only identify Robinson and Carter when she was inside the gas station, but wasn't sure if Struggs was inside.

Hickman testified at a preliminary hearing in the case, prosecuted by then-deputy district attorney Ed Jagels, about a conversation between the robbers and himself. He was credited by law enforcement for solving the case when he stepped forward, according to The Californian's previous reporting.

Hickman testified Robinson and Struggs told him they robbed the gas station and Robinson shot Dishman, according to previous reporting. He also said he testified only to collect a $5,000 reward posted by the Secret Witness Program.

The Californian offered $1,000 in its Secret Witness program and the Hudson Oil Company offered $5,000. Hickman said he was paid by The Californian, and sought the additional money.

The late Stanley Simrin, a revered defense attorney in Bakersfield who represented Struggs, said he wanted to subpoena whoever Hickman talked to in the Secret Witness program during a preliminary hearing. That included The Californian's then-Co-publisher and Editor Ted Fritts, Managing Editor Owen Kearns Jr., Assistant Managing Editor W.J. McCance and courts reporter Steve E. Swenson.

Simrin sought their testimony about the newspaper's Secret Witness program to learn if Hickman's testimony was truthful and for the newsmen to divulge who Hickman talked to and what was said.

Kearns and Associate Editor Peter D. DeArmond testified at a preliminary hearing for Struggs. Simrin attempted to discredit Hickman by matching what he said to other people and comparing it to what others said Hickman said to them.

DeArmond and Bakersfield Police Capt. Bob Patterson largely corroborated what Hickman said, The Californian reported.

DeArmond also testified he destroyed the only written report about conversations between himself and the informant. That erasure happened five days after DeArmond learned about subpoenas served to newsmen, but two hours before he found out he was going to testify, The Californian's reporting at the time said.

Simrin then suggested DeArmond was "involved in a conspiracy to deprive my client of his civil rights to a fair trial," previous reporting said. The destroyed report noted information about a "suspects' car" and a description of "the suspect."

"The case against (Struggs) was perhaps the weakest against any of the three defendants," The Californian reported.

Struggs also told The Californian in a January jailhouse interview that Hickman changed his testimony at his trial from the preliminary hearing. But, trial transcripts have been lost and only show prosecution witnesses, not defense ones.

During Thursday's resentencing hearing, Pulskamp also noted his decision to vacate the murder conviction doesn't mean jurors were factually incorrect when convicting Struggs — it only reflects a change in laws since 1981.

Ronald Robinson, the shooter, continues to serve out his sentence in prison. It's unclear what happened to Phillip Carter — he's no longer listed as a prisoner.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @_ishanidesai on Twitter.