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PROPOSITION 184 : Nonviolent 'Three-Strike' Crimes Detailed : Calling for defeat of tough sentencing initiative, group profiles 10 defendants who could get 25 years to life in prison for minor offenses, such as theft of a shirt.

October 19, 1994|NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They are a 35-year-old Pomona man who is charged with stealing $6 worth of meat to feed his family, a 33-year-old San Diego County resident who allegedly stole a shirt for a job interview, and a 25-year-old Modesto father of two who fell asleep drunk in his parked station wagon and woke up to find that police had discovered a gun and methamphetamines in the car.

They are men who, if convicted, will fall into a category deemed too dangerous to be allowed on the streets for at least 25 years. They will be three-time losers prosecuted under the state's "three strikes" law.

On Tuesday, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice released a report profiling 10 nonviolent offenders facing 25 years to life in prison as a result of "three strikes," and warning that these cases are not unusual.

"None of these men were ever accused of harming a victim. They're not the stuff of front-page headlines," said Peter Collins, a San Francisco radio talk show host who led a news conference Tuesday calling for the defeat of Proposition 184, the voter initiative that would affirm "three strikes" and make it harder to amend.

"Our hope is for people . . . to look at these men and ask themselves, do we truly need so broad a law?" he said.

Speakers urged voters to reject the "three strikes" initiative, saying its defeat would send a message to the Legislature. As it is now, opponents said, "three strikes" is "too soft on hard criminals and too hard on soft ones." And many, like Margaret Alvarado, whose son faces life in prison for allegedly stealing three chuck steaks, see "three strikes" for nonviolent offenders as an abomination.

"He's facing 25 years to life for stealing $6 of meat," a sobbing Alvarado said of her son, Michael Garcia. "In my heart, I feel that's cruel and unjustified. He's not a violent person. This law is fine for some people, but for so many others it's unreasonable. It doesn't fit the crime."

Richard Jenkins, a deputy district attorney in Pomona, said Garcia was convicted at age 16 of murder, which influenced his decision to prosecute Garcia under the "three strikes" law. Garcia has said he had been talked into driving a car used in a fatal shooting, but never fired a shot.

Vincent Schiraldi, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, acknowledged that he and other anti- Proposition 184 forces are fighting an uphill battle. A recent Times poll found support for the initiative among likely voters to be 59%.

Opponents of Proposition 184 hope that if voters reject the measure, they can persuade the Legislature to change the current law. Schiraldi said he would want the law amended to not count juvenile offenses or burglaries as strikes, and to require that the third strike be a violent crime. If Proposition '184 passes, "you and I will be cold in our graves before the Legislature ever touches" the law, he told reporters.

Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter's murder helped propel the law through the Legislature, said his daughter would not have supported the spirit of the current law.

"Polly was a gentle soul, who did not believe in injustice, because Polly would not hurt a fly. Polly would give her last dollar to a homeless person, and Polly would not support an initiative to put a pizza thief in jail for life," Klaas said, referring to a "three strikes" case where a Redondo Beach man faces 25 years to life in prison for stealing some slices of pizza.

Klaas said the law "casts far too wide a net" and would sentence a first-time rapist to only four years in prison while people such as Dale Broyles, the Modesto man found sleeping in his station wagon, would serve at least 20. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office says 70% of all "three strikes" cases prosecuted by the office have been against nonviolent offenders.

Broyles, convicted of gun theft at age 19 because, he says, he was trying to protect a friend who did the actual deed, also tried to escape from jail after his girlfriend, pregnant with his child, was killed in a car wreck. He says the gun and drugs found in the station wagon were not his.

"I've never thought of myself as a violent person," he said. "They're taking it out on the wrong people. I've never hurt no one but myself."

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