'Pizza thief' walks the line
Feb 12, 2010
From the Los Angeles Times article by Jack Leonard:
If he ever returns to prison, Jerry Dewayne Williams knows he'll probably never get out.
To stay clear of trouble, he has left behind the Compton neighborhood where police knew him and cut ties with friends from wilder days. Once a hard partyer, the 43-year-old says he prefers the company of a mystery novel or a "Law and Order" episode on television.
Williams is one of more than 14,000 felons who, under California's three-strikes law, face a possible life sentence if they commit another felony. But few, if any, grasp the reality of that threat better than Williams.
Fifteen years ago, the gangly laborer made worldwide headlines when he was convicted of snatching a slice of pizza from a group of children near the Redondo Beach Pier. A judge, citing California's newly adopted three-strikes law, sentenced him to 25 years to life.
Williams -- dubbed the "pizza thief" -- became an iconic symbol in the political and ideological battle over California's push to get tough on crime. But as the public furor over his case subsided, Williams persuaded a judge to reduce his prison term, and he was quietly released after a little more than five years behind bars.
A decade later, Williams finds himself serving a different kind of life sentence.
"I walk on eggshells," he said. "Any little thing that I do, I could be
back for the rest of my life."
Controversial life sentences under the three-strikes law are hardly novel. Those sentenced under the law include a thief caught shoplifting a bottle of vitamins and a drug addict who swiped nine videotapes to sell for heroin.
But few cases have polarized opinion as much as Williams' theft of an extra-large slice of pepperoni pizza. The case continues to divide today, resurfacing whenever opponents of the law launch another reform attempt.
Williams' story since his release offers fuel to both backers and opponents of three strikes.
For opponents, Williams' success in staying out of prison repudiates one of the central ideas behind the law: That three-strikes offenders are beyond redemption and should be locked up for life.
For supporters of the law, Williams' efforts to avoid trouble illustrate how three strikes is working as a powerful deterrent.
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