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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Pusher gets life

 

1957_0518_dope

May 18, 1957
Los Angeles

Gilbert M. Zaragoza, 21, of 3322 Oregon St. was led out of Federal court to serve the rest of his life in prison, presumably thankful that he escaped the death penalty.

His crime? He sold two caps of heroin to one minor and 10 caps of heroin to another juvenile, becoming the first man to be sentenced under the Narcotic Control Act of 1956 signed by President Eisenhower.

According to a 1973 article from Contemporary Drug Problems:

In Los Angeles one Gilbert Mora Zaragoza, a near-illiterate; epileptic Mexican-American addict, with an IQ of 71, was tricked into selling heroin to a 17-year-old bureau turncoat named Eddie Manguio. Zaragoza was 21 at the time. Bureau spokesmen later claimed they were trying to make a case against an older peddler for whom Zaragoza sometimes worked. But when the two youngsters botched the situation Zaragoza was put on trial for his life.

  The jury which heard the case declined to recommend death; but on May 17, 1957, when Zaragoza came up for sentencing the judge [William C. Mathes], sometimes known as   "Maximum Mathes," committed him for life without parole, commenting: "The jury   gave you back your life. Now society should use your life to set an example   for others." Subsequent applications to Judge Mathes to reconsider the   sentence evoked only the comment that its severity "may have been some   deterrent to others."

Five years later, President Kennedy commuted the life sentence to a 20-year term. The Times apparently failed to cover the story of Gilbert Mora Zaragoza's release from prison in 1970.

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