After 23 Years, Man Freed From Sentence for Joyriding

He got life under Calif.'s old '3 strikes' law
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 5, 2019 12:15 AM CDT
After 23 Years, Man Freed From Sentence for Joyriding
This May 30, 2019, photo released by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Kenneth Oliver.   (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

A California man was freed from prison after serving 23 years of his life sentence on a joyriding conviction, including eight years in solitary confinement for possessing a banned book. His attorneys say it's unconscionable that he was set to die in prison for nonviolent crimes. Kenneth Oliver, now 52, was given the life sentence at 29 under California's strict "three strikes" sentencing law for repeat felons. Voters eased the law in 2012 to allow life sentences only when the third strike is for a serious or violent felony. But Oliver was ineligible for a new sentence because he was found with purported gang materials including a book called Blood In My Eye, completed by Black Guerilla Family prison gang co-founder George Jackson days before he died during a bloody attempt to escape from San Quentin State Prison in 1971. Oliver spent his time in solitary studying the law and filing the federal lawsuit that eventually helped lead to his release.

Oliver was freed Monday after Los Angeles County prosecutors dropped their objections "in the interest of justice," and after the state corrections department expunged his gang-affiliation record and paid him a $125,000 settlement for his time in solitary. "It's almost impossible to believe that what happened to Ken happened here in California. You know, people think of this as an enlightened state and both the sentence and the time in (solitary confinement) don't square with that," said Ward Johnson, lead counsel on the case at the Mayer Brown law firm. "I really haven't wrapped my head around it fully," Oliver said 24 hours after his release and after he and his father, a university dean in Georgia, celebrated with dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. "I do feel like time has passed me by but I'm trying not to be negative about it."

(More three strikes law stories.)

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