After nearly 18 years in prison, a Marin City man who received a life sentence for possessing crack cocaine was ordered released Thursday under the "three strikes" reform law.
Kethon Levern Triggs, 56, is one of the first Marin County convicts to regain freedom under Proposition 36, approved by California voters in November. Other petitioners are in the pipeline.
"It's a wonderful day," said his lawyer, Elissa Lasserre. "It's a long time coming. The three strikes law was Draconian and unjust, and I feel justice was served. It's a good day for society."
The original three-strikes law was approved by California voters in 1994, a year after repeat offender Richard Allen Davis kidnapped and murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma.
Proposition 36 eased the three-strikes law, allowing convicted criminals who received a life sentence to seek a new sentence if the third "strike" was not a serious or violent offense. The law does not apply to lifers whose first and second strikes were rape, murder or child molestation.
The ballot initiative passed with a 69 percent majority statewide and an 83 percent majority in Marin County.
Triggs was convicted of his third strike in 1995, after prior strikes for robbery and burglary. Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor sentenced him to 27 years to life.
After Proposition 36 was approved, Triggs petitioned Marin Superior Court to revisit his sentence. Judge Andrew Sweet heard the petition Thursday.
Under the law, a judge has to decide whether the prisoner will pose a public safety risk if released. Lasserre assured Sweet that Triggs will live with his mother, that he has religious faith and community support, and that he has a lead on a job at a supermarket.
"I think he will be off to a very good start," Lasserre said.
Prosecutor Shawn Spaulding made no objection to the petition.
Sweet approved the petition and sentenced Triggs to six years for the crack cocaine case. As Triggs has already served three times that much prison time, the judge ordered the state prison system to release him.
Triggs will be taken back to New Folsom State Prison and could be free within a day or two. Lasserre said it was unclear how long the process will take because the law is still relatively new.
Triggs' mother, Johnnie Griffin, attended the hearing Thursday.
"He was sentenced for life and should have got six years," she said. "I feel that something is wrong with the system. I knew he was devious and did things I didn't approve of, but geez."
Last month, a Mill Valley drug offender was ordered released after winning a similar petition. Steven Vasquez was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 1995 after a third-strike conviction for possessing .4 grams of heroin, said Chief Deputy Public Defender David Brown, who worked on the petition with colleague Christine O'Hanlon.
Judge Terrence Boren sentenced Vasquez to seven years for the drug crime and ordered him freed, Brown said.
"We have a number of these cases in various stages of preparation," he said. "The delay is mostly waiting for and reviewing voluminous prison records."
Contact Gary Klien via email at firstname.lastname@example.org