Opinion

Three strikes almost out of time

Political

Columnist

A few weeks ago I alerted readers to a startling state Senate proposal that would erase the life terms of nearly half the state’s 292 “Three Strikes, Your Out” inmates, setting more than 80 of them free immediately. The legislation, SB 5292, passed out of committee with the support of eastside Sen. Rodney Tom.

The bill would remove second-degree robbery from the list of strikes and re-sentences anyone who struck out with one or more robbery 2s on his record. Its supporters say that robbery 2 should not qualify as a strike because violence is merely threatened to carry out a robbery, not actually used. The reality is that many robbery 1 charges -- where violence is used -- are pleaded down to robbery 2. Any cop or prosecutor knows this.

You might remember reading about some of the inmates who would benefit from SB 5292. Take Chrisopher Loy, age 42. Mr. Loy bludgeoned a contractor to death with a 2x4 on Mercer Island eight years ago (it was a planned murder). He also has a first-degree assault conviction on his record. But his first strike was robbery 2, back in the early ‘80s, so Mr. Loy would have his life term expunged and receive another shot at freedom.

Terry Smith, 37, from King County, struck out on second-degree murder more than 10 years ago. He had a previous conviction for assault but, once again, one of his strikes was robbery 2, so his life sentence goes away and Mr. Smith goes free within a few years, maybe sooner. Willie Haggerty from Seattle slashed the throat of Mildred Simmons, his mom’s neighbor, 12 years ago. His life term evaporates because his second strike was robbery 2 (his first was assault with a deadly weapon).

Sex offender Michael Pella from King County was in his late 40s when he struck out on first-degree rape. But one of his strikes, a robbery 2 conviction in the early ‘80s, would negate his life sentence. Lucky him.

What on earth is Rodney Tom thinking?

The current Three Strikes law already contains a clause that allows the governor to grant clemency to Three Strikers who earn early release. With the law now 15 years old, there are some lifers who may merit having their sentences reviewed (one has already been recommended for clemency). But these inmates EARNED this review. If SB 5292 passed, there would be no earned clemency and no review by the governor’s office. The prison door simply swings open. What a relief for Robert Johnson, another sex offender who has strikes for both rape 1 and assault 1 on his record, but would earn early release because his first strike was robbery 2.

SB 5292 now heads to the Senator floor for an up-or-down vote. You had best contact your senator about this bill, because if it passes, some of these guys are coming to a neighborhood near you.

CORRECTION: Last week I mentioned that when the 520 floating bridge was opened, it carried a toll from 1963-1979, but that the I-90 floating bridge did not. Several alert readers pointed out that for six years after opening in 1940, it did indeed carry a 25-cent toll for cars and 35-cents for “wagons drawn by one or two horses.” By the way, the bridge cost $8.85 million to build, which adjusting for inflation would be $130 million today. The current estimate for replacing the 520 floating bridge is now north of $4.5 billion.

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