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Ventura County

Rapist Arrested in $12 Theft

Crime: Santa Paula man is charged with a felony. He faces three-strikes law if convicted.

January 17, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A convicted rapist from Santa Paula who was among the state's first inmates held under a law locking up sex offenders beyond their prison term is back in jail on suspicion of stealing wine, mouthwash and lip balm from a grocery store, authorities said.

The total value of the items came to less than $12 but Ronald Steven Herrera, 56, was charged with a felony after the Carpinteria incident earlier this month because "he walked into the store with the intent to steal something," Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Jim Dollar said.

Herrera also threatened the deputy who was taking him to jail, Dollar said, adding that Herrera remains in Santa Barbara County Jail without bail.

Herrera pleaded not guilty to the charges Jan. 8 and faces a Jan. 22 preliminary hearing in Santa Barbara Superior Court, Deputy Public Defender Jeff Chambliss said.

If convicted, Herrera could be sentenced to prison for 25 years to life because a third felony on his record would make him eligible for the three-strikes law.

David Lehr, a senior deputy district attorney who had argued in November that Herrera should remain incarcerated, said he had expected Herrera to get arrested again.

"I'm surprised it took this long," Lehr said. "I thought it was going to be about a week. All I can say is, 'Thank God.' This man has the potential to hurt people."

Herrera has a lengthy criminal record in Ventura County and Virginia that includes the 1971 rape of a woman and her 15-year-old daughter during a home-invasion robbery at a Ventura Beach cottage.

Shortly after his conviction on those rapes, Herrera escaped with three other inmates from the Oxnard jail. He fled to Virginia, where he was arrested and sentenced to 50 years in prison for a series of minimarket robberies, including one in which he shot a police officer, Lehr said.

After serving 13 years of that sentence, Herrera was paroled and returned to Ventura County and sent to state prison on the Ventura rape charges. He served eight years and eight months in prison for those crimes.

Before his prison release in 1996, he was ordered to the hospital under terms of the Sexually Violent Predator Act, which allowed prosecutors to place repeat sexual offenders in state hospitals for two-year increments.

In November, Herrera was released from Atascadero State Hospital after doctors concluded he no longer could be considered a violent sexual predator.

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