By Tracey Kaplan
The luckiest woman in California may not be the Alameda secretary who recently won $93 million in the lottery, or the Marin woman who survived a Maui shark attack.
By some accounts, she’s Kelly Turner, a 42-year-old former thief once doomed by the state’s tough Three Strikes Law to spend 25 years to life in state prison for writing a bad check for $146.16. Retired Santa Clara County Judge LaDoris Cordell, now San Jose’s independent police auditor, got the courts to release her after Turner spent 13 years locked up. She’s believed to be the only female “third-striker” ever to get out early.
“She’s turned her life around,” Cordell said.
But if Turner so much as steals a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, it’s not just her new life in a Central Valley suburb that could unravel. Also at risk could be an effort by a group of Stanford law professors to put an initiative on the ballot to temper the Three Strikes Law, the strictest such sentencing law in the nation.
That’s because Turner’s behavior — and the conduct of all third-strikers, including the few who have been freed early and the thousands still inside — will take center stage if the measure qualifies and goes to voters next year, political experts say.
“The only thing voters will see when they get behind the curtain are their faces,” said Democratic political consultant Bob Mulholland, referring to the third-strikers. “Voters will vote with their gut or heart — not their thought process.”
The Three Strikes Law was passed by both the Legislature and voters in 1994 after several high-profile murders committed by ex-felons sparked public outrage. The most notorious case was the strangling of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, who in 1993 was kidnapped from her Petaluma home.
Under existing law, the first two strikes have to be violent or serious crimes, as defined by the penal code. Sentences are doubled for the second strike. But only California, out of 24 states with similar laws, allows the third strike to be any felony.
People have received life sentences for stealing socks, attempting to break into a soup kitchen to get something to eat, and shoplifting golf clubs.
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