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Felon Gets 25 to Life in $12 Theft

Ventura County

November 16, 2002|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura County career criminal has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for stealing $12 worth of sundries from a Santa Barbara County grocery store.

Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa imposed the sentence Thursday on Ronald Steven Herrera, 57.

Herrera was found guilty last month of commercial burglary and felony petty theft for stealing lip balm, breath spray and a bottle of wine from a Carpinteria Vons store. The burglary was Herrera's third felony conviction under the state's three-strikes law, an initiative approved by voters eight years ago that mandates a life term for a third felony if the first two were serious or violent. Herrera's attorneys have said they plan to appeal.

"He may have taken approximately $12 worth of items, but the fact remains he is a violent serious offender who cannot function in society," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Darryl Perlin. "He is the kind of person the voters and Legislature don't want out on the street."

Last week, the three-strikes law -- the nation's harshest measure for repeat offenders -- was challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court under the principle that the penalty is unconstitutional because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. A ruling is due in several months.

Ochoa denied a defense motion that the defendant's 17 prior felony convictions not be taken into account during sentencing, Perlin said.

"Judge Ochoa then indicated that he felt, based on his two decades of service on the bench, that Ronald Herrera is as bad as he has seen. 'Horrific' is the word he used," Perlin said.

Deputy Public Defender Jeff Chambliss, who was not available for comment Friday, argued at trial that his client has a brain defect that prevents him from remembering things, including whether he had paid for the items at the store.

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