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Third-striker at center of sentencing debate is released from prison by L.A. judge

August 16, 2010 |  2:37 pm

A Los Angeles judge Monday ordered the release of a third-striker serving a life sentence for attempting to break into a church soup kitchen.

The case of Gregory Taylor, 48, who was mentally ill, drug-addicted and homeless when caught trying to pry open the church’s doors with a wooden board 13 years ago, has often been cited as an example of California’s three strikes law leading to disproportionate sentences for relatively minor crimes.

He told arresting officers he was hungry and wanted something to eat. At the time, a priest from the church, where Taylor was a regular and occasionally volunteered, pleaded that a life sentence “would not be just or merciful,” saying Taylor was “a peaceful man” and “a very good person who may have made mistakes.”

Judge Peter Espinoza was ruling on a habeas corpus petition for Taylor’s release filed by two law students as part of a Stanford law clinic devoted to helping three-strikes inmates serving lengthy sentences for minor third offenses.

In the petition, the students contended that Taylor’s public defender failed to adequately investigate mitigating circumstances, including his having been abused and neglected as a child.

The trial judge also incorrectly instructed jurors, telling them that if the circumstantial evidence is equal between the defendant’s guilt or innocence, they should vote for guilt — the opposite of what he should have told them, the students wrote.

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley did not oppose the petition. Cooley repeatedly cited Taylor’s case in his 2000 campaign against his predecessor, Gil Garcetti, who was a champion of the three-strikes law.

-- Victoria Kim

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