38-year-old granted parole for murder he committed at 14

At left is a photo of then-14-year-old Tony Hicks in a pretrial proceeding. (Photo from Union-Tribune file) At right is a 2016 photo of Hicks in prison. (Photo courtesy Tariq Khamisa Foundation)

SAN DIEGO — Tony Hicks, now 38, has been granted parole for a murder he committed at age 14.

Hicks was attempting to rob a pizza deliveryman in 1995 when he shot and killed the 20-year-old driver, Tariq Khamisa. On Wednesday, Khamisa’s father and sister traveled to a San Luis Obispo prison to urge a state parole board to release the man who killed their son and brother.

Their wish was granted.

After a six-hour hearing at the California Men’s Colony and another hour of deliberation, the Parole Board announced that Hicks’ parole had been granted. The Governor’s Office will receive the case for review, and if the governor takes no action, Hicks will be released in 2019.

“The case is unique and compelling. As an adult, Mr. Hicks committed a serious, violent offense during his incarceration several years after the murder,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a release. Stephan attended Wednesday’s hearing at request of the victim’s family.

“We also consider his young age at the time of the murder, the fact that he has been free of violations in prison for two years, and the support he has waiting for him on the outside, which are all factors in his favor,” she said.

In this June 18, 1996 photo, Tony Hicks, 15, wipes away tears as he speaks to San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Weber, expressing sorrow and accepting responsibility for killing Tariq Khamisa during a botched robbery. Comforting Hicks is his then-defense attorney Henry Coker. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Ultimately, the parole board weighed all those factors and made a decision based on whether or not he poses a unreasonable, current threat to public safety. I respect the board’s decision as well as the views of the victim’s family who have turned their personal tragedy into a force for good. It’s my sincere hope that Mr. Hicks will become a productive member of the community upon his release.”

He was the first youth in California to be tried as an adult under a law adopted in 1995 that allowed juveniles as young as 14 to be tried as adults for murder, according to San Diego Union-Tribune. Hicks pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Tariq Khamisa and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Hicks has served 23 years behind bars.

Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1391, which overturned that law, eliminating the ability to try a defendant under the age of 16 as an adult for any violent crime.

“If this law had been in effect in 1995, Tony (Hicks) would have been prosecuted in Juvenile Court and paroled many years ago,” said Azim Khamisa, the victim’s father and founder of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. “The other two individuals involved in the crime were sentenced in Juvenile Court. Tony made a mistake. He has atoned for it in many ways. He has paid his debt to society. It is time for him to be released.”

Tasreen Khamisa, the victim’s sister, said that when he was 16, an immature Hicks was incarcerated with some of the most hardened adult offenders in the state at Folsom Prison.

After the murder, Azim Khamisa founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation and reached out to Tony Hicks’ grandfather, Ples Felix, in the spirit of forgiveness. Since the beginning, TKF has focused its attention on the same age group Tony Hicks was in when he committed the crime. The foundation has provided mentoring to 2,400 students and stands ready to help more.

The foundation’s Facebook page posted a message from Felix and Azim Khamisa, along with Hicks’ attorney, sharing their excitement at the decision from San Luis Obispo:

“We plan to bring Tony on to the staff at TKF where he can share his powerful message about the consequences of violence and the benefits of restorative justice with thousands of youth,” Tasreen Khamisa said. “The bottom line is that our kids need Tony. He will have a powerful voice in helping stop youth violence.”

In preparation for his second chance at freedom, Hicks has earned his GED and college credits toward an associate’s degree, according to TKF. He has also been writing a blog for TKF’s website, answering student questions.