THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

They Walk Among Us

In 1986 on a sunny September afternoon, “N”, her toddler son and her father, “L”, went camping in  Tennessee. *

The soft fall breeze and flickering sunlight through the red and gold leaves provided a welcome relief from the hostilities and threats N endured before separating from her husband, “D”.

The peace did not last long. Just as N’s tension eased and she felt she could breath easy, she saw D’s car  pull up to the campsite. Before N could reach her son, D dragged her to his car.  He pinned her down with one arm and shot her father in the chest.

With N already in the car, D grabbed their son into the car and sped out of the campground. Witnesses called the police.

Speeding around a corner, D lost control of the car and crashed into a retaining wall. N tried to get out of the car, holding her toddler son with one arm and yanking at the handle with the other. D pulled their son from her arm and held a gun to the boys head. Hysterical, bleeding from her head and desperate to save her child, N lurched forward in an attempt to pull her son away.  D shot at her, but missed as N ducked away.  As N watched in horror, D put his hands around the boy’s throat and began to choke him to death.

Police intervened in time. D was sentenced to 45 years of which he served eight. Two years after his release, while he was still on parole, D murdered his new fiancée, stabbing her repeatedly with a knife in the parking lot of the local Taco Bell. Her 15 year-old daughter witnessed the murder. He was sentenced to death in 1997.

Timing is Everything When You Are Convicted of Murder

Sentencing is all about timing. Guidelines change and with it, so do prison sentences. Attempted presidential assassin’s Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore were sentenced to prison for life in 1975. No one would have thought these two women would ever receive a “get out of jail free” card before they died in prison.

Yet, Moore was released from federal prison Dec. 31, 2007, the only person at that time to ever be released who attempted to assassinate a U.S. President.

Sixty year-old Manson Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme has been released from Fort Worth’s Federal Medical Center Carswell after 34 years.

In 1975, federal guidelines allowed that 30 years was a life sentence and that prisoners can be paroled after they have served their sentence if they have a record of good behavior.

All that changed in 1984 for those for those charged with a federal crime/ “The Sentencing Reform Act would have made it almost impossible for a federally sentenced criminal serving a life sentence to get parole,” said Colin Cooper, a criminal lawyer from Berkeley, CA.  “It is always up to the parole board, but there would be no mandatory 30 year limit.”

States were undergoing reforms of their own prior to the “Three Strikes” act.  In Tennessee, two reforms allowed D to walk out of the 50 year sentence in eight years.

In 1985, the year before D’s arrest in Tennessee, the state allowed sentencing credits to come off both the parole eligibility date and the expiration date. These credits were known as “prisoner performance credits” and could reduce the sentence by as much as fifteen days per month; in 1988 this was increased to sixteen days per month.

California’s Three Strikes Law that began in 1994 has had a profound effect on sentencing in general keeping people in prison a lot longer. “Any criminal sentence, whether it is for a first, second or third, is much stricter now,” according to  Cooper.

This is now, but that was then

When Phillip Craig Garrido was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1977 for kidnapping a South Lake Tahoe young woman so he could rape her,  Leland Lufty, the former federal prosecutor in Reno who won the 1977 conviction against Garrido believed he would be locked up forever.

 However, the Sentencing Reform Act was still years away and Garrido knew how to play the system. 

In California, 10 percent of those on parole or probation just disappear compared with only 3 percent of those released on private bail bonds, according to the U.S. National Center for Policy Analysis, June 2000.

 A study in 2000  by the Dept. of Justice reported  that 15 murders a day are committed by people already on parole  and 53 percent of prison inmates were on probation, parole or pretrial release when they were re-arrested. 

*http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/opinions/tcca/PDF/003/JamersonT.pdf