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Inmate in Stun Belt Suit Dies Before Release

September 21, 2002|From Associated Press

A convicted thief who sued Los Angeles County after he was jolted with an electric stun belt in court, has died in Vacaville only hours before paperwork was completed to free him from prison, his lawyer said Friday.

Ronnie Hawkins, 52, was serving 25 years to life when he died at a state prison Thursday, attorney Stephen Yagman said.

Hawkins, who had AIDS, was waiting to be released after a federal judge ruled that his 1998 three-strikes sentence for stealing $250 worth of painkillers was too harsh.

The writ to release him was completed three hours after Hawkins died, Yagman said.

Hawkins was acting as his own attorney during a 1998 sentencing hearing when he was shocked by a 50,000-volt, low-amperage stun belt after interrupting Long Beach Superior Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani.

Hawkins sued the county, claiming the use of the belt violated his right to a fair trial by effectively silencing him.

In October, Hawkins agreed to settle his lawsuit over the stun belt incident for $275,000.

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