Local prosecutors have moved five life-term inmates from Sacramento County to the front of the line to possibly gain their releases from state prison under last year's passage of the Proposition 36 measure that softened California's "three-strikes" law.
Larry Edward Bailey, 62, Kevin Lewis Holloway, 59, Daniel Leonard Anderson, 55, Victor Charles Harvey Jr., 50, and Aaron Chris Collins, 46, will appear before judges in Sacramento Superior Court next week for resentencing hearings.
They would be the first Sacramento inmates released under Proposition 36 if the judges resentence them.
After assessing records that included the history of the inmates' prison behavior, the District Attorney's Office has decided against opposing any of their releases, even though one of the offenders looking to be released – Holloway – has a voluntary manslaughter conviction on his record.
"We see our role as telling the court whether there is evidence to establish that they are a danger to the community," Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said Tuesday. "When we find evidence that the person is a danger to the community, we're going to make that clear to the court. In other instances, we would tell the court we did not find evidence of dangerousness."
Grippi said prosecutors did not find such evidence in the cases of the five inmates, including Holloway. The DA's determination then set the stage for next week's hearings where the final call still will rest with the judges.
Holloway is scheduled to appear Monday before Judge Alan G. Perkins. Bailey, Collins and Anderson will appear Wednesday before Judge Lawrence G. Brown. Harvey's case will be heard Thursday by Brown.
"It's a good day," Chief Assistant Public Defender Karen Flynn said, after receiving confirmation that prosecutors will not stand in the way of the inmates' releases. "I just think it was the intent of the citizens of California to not lock up folks who don't commit serious or violent felonies. It's a correction of the law from 1994."
The five inmates seeking the resentencings next week had first been vetted by Flynn's office. A few inmates who filed on their own for new sentences have since been rejected by local judges.
More than 70 percent of California voters approved the three-strikes law in the 1994 balloting. It held that any third felony conviction could qualify offenders for 25-to-life terms if they had two serious or violent priors.
Voters again upheld the law in 2004 before deciding to change it last year with Proposition 36. Now, third felonies in most instances must also be for serious or violent convictions.
Proposition 36 also contained a resentencing provision for inmates sentenced to life terms under the 1994 law if they were convicted on relatively minor third felonies. As many as 3,700 inmates qualify for the resentencing, including about 160 in Sacramento County.
Since last year's passage of Proposition 36, a total of 93 life-term three-strikes prisoners have been released from custody at their resentencing hearings, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Grippi said that when the voters put three strikes on the books in 1994, "we followed the law," and that local prosecutors will do the same with Proposition 36.
"There's no begrudging the law," he said. "It is what it is. We'll do our job. There have been a lot of changes since 1994. One of them is that crime rates have dropped dramatically, violent crime in particular. And so people's attitudes about how long someone should be incarcerated have apparently changed. We accept that as the law, and we're going to follow it as we did back in 1994."
Among the five inmates scheduled for resentencing hearings next week, all have completed assorted education, work and drug treatment programs in prison.
Each of them also had been sentenced to their 25-to-life terms for lighter-weight third convictions – Bailey for second-degree burglary and petty theft, Holloway for conspiracy to transport drugs, Anderson for possession of marijuana and methamphetamine, Harvey for possession of methamphetamine, and Collins for possession of marijuana in prison.
The five inmates each have prior records that include at least two prior serious or violent convictions. In Holloway's case, the record includes a 1998 manslaughter, on which no details were available Tuesday. But he is still eligible for release under Proposition 36 unless the judge finds at his resentencing hearing Monday that he poses "an unreasonable risk to public safety."
Holloway has been in prison since the manslaughter conviction and would have been released from prison had it not been for his 2006 three-strikes conviction. According to court records, his girlfriend was arrested with 36 grams of marijuana, 6.7 grams of heroin and 1.5 grams of cocaine secreted in a body cavity in a March 2003 visit to Folsom Prison.
According to his resentencing petition, Holloway since 2006 has completed numerous drug programs, a father's program, education and anger management programs, and two religious and ministry programs
"He's eligible under the law," the DA's Grippi said. "And we are balancing the commitment offense, the strikes, and all of his previous records, and in doing so, we could not find sufficient evidence to show he is an unreasonable risk of danger at this time."