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Error may have freed suspect in Burk’s death

August 3, 2009 | 10:25 pm

Should the man accused of killing Lily Burk have been behind bars at the time the teen was slain? 

That's a question some have asked after it was revealed that he had a long criminal record.

The Times' Jack Leonard and Richard Winton are now reporting that indeed the suspect, Charles Samuel, might have been in prison had there not been a clerical error years ago in his rap sheet.

A parolee accused of killing 17-year-old Lily Burk last month could have been serving a lengthy prison sentence instead of roaming the streets of Los Angeles but for a clerical error that misstated his criminal record, according to interviews and court documents reviewed by The Times.

Because of the error, authorities did not know that Charles Samuel was eligible to be prosecuted under the state's tough three-strikes law when he was arrested for and convicted of burglary in San Bernardino County in 1997.

A San Bernardino County district attorney's official said he believed prosecutors would have filed the burglary charge as a third strike had Samuel's "rap sheet" properly shown that he had previous convictions that counted as two strikes rather than one.

"We were very aggressive on all three-strikes cases back then," said Assistant Dist. Atty. Dennis Christy.

Under the three-strikes law, offenders convicted of a third strike face a minimum prison sentence of 25 years to life.

A second opportunity to prosecute Samuel under the three-strikes law came in 2006, when he was charged with petty theft in Los Angeles. A district attorney's spokeswoman said prosecutors also reviewed Samuel's criminal records and believe that at the time his case would not have been charged as a third strike.

Read the rest here.