FAIRFIELD — Four career criminals from Solano County, all serving prison sentences of at least 25-years-to-life, are trying to get out of prison because of recent changes to California’s three-strikes laws.
Last year, California voters overwhelmingly agreed to change the state’s three-strikes law so that it only applied to criminals whose third felony offense was deemed serious or violent. The law had a provision to allow anyone in prison as a three-strikes offender to petition the courts to have their punishment reconsidered and possibly reversed by the courts.
Officials estimated as many as 3,000 three-strikes offenders statewide could have their sentences changed. The number of three-strikes offenders in Solano County has so far added up to only four inmates and prosecutors say that could be all of the petitions coming from inmates from Solano County as a result of the change in the law.
The petitions of three of those four three-strikes offenders were heard in court for the first time Friday. The fourth petition is set to be heard Jan. 28.
The low number of petitions is largely due to a policy of former District Attorney David Paulson to typically pursue a three-strikes punishment only when the third offense was deemed serious and violent.
The petitions come from four men, all former Vallejo residents. All have extensive criminal records.
Ronnie Winn, 59, is serving a 26-years-to-life sentence for beating and stomping a 60-year-old grandfather to death over a $3 debt.
Winn, a former professional boxer, attacked James Rendleman in 1999 over the debt incurred by Winn’s girlfriend. Winn grabbed Rendleman and lifted him off the ground by the throat. Rendleman responded to Winn’s action by picking up a 40-ounce King Cobra bottle and hitting Winn in the back of his head, according to witness testimony.
Winn responded by knocking Rendleman to the floor and unleashing a series of kicks and stomps to his head and body that left Rendleman severely injured. Rendleman, who suffered for a month before he died of the injuries, was beaten so severely Winn left a shoe print embedded in his face.
Judge E. Bradley Nelson transferred Winn’s petition to Judge Robert Bowers, who will decide Jan. 25 when to have Winn brought from prison for a hearing for his petition.
Deputy District Attorney Barry Taira said Friday that it was likely Winn’s crime would be considered serious and violent and that prosecutors would oppose any effort to change his 26-years-to-life sentence.
The second petition was filed Wednesday by Lewis “Lulu” Jenkins.
One morning in August 2000, Jenkins was walking with a prostitute when they happened upon a man passed out on a table in a Vallejo schoolyard. On the table next to the inebriate was a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English 800 and his semi-automatic pistol. Jenkins helped himself to the gun and to $22 in the man’s pocket.
Jenkins, a parolee at the time, dumped the gun but kept the cash. He was arrested a short time later.
The theft would have normally resulted in a maximum six-year prison stint, but because of Jenkins’ criminal record spanning more than 20 years, prosecutors went after Jenkins as a three-strikes offender. In 2001, Judge Mike Nail sentenced Jenkins to 25-years-to-life in prison.
Jenkins is scheduled to be taken from prison to appear in front of Nail at a hearing Jan. 31.
Also on Jan. 31, Nail will consider the petition of three-strikes offender Robert H. Grace.
In 1997, Grace, an ex-con, tried and failed to get away from Vallejo police in a car chase. He was found guilty of felony evading in 1998 and Nail sentenced him to 25-years-to-life in prison. Much of the court records and appellate records for Grace’s case have been purged.
In 2002, Anderson P. Thurston, now 53, was sentenced to 27-years-to-life in prison. His crimes were running a stop sign, driving the wrong way on a one-way road and speeding during a two-minute, slow-speed police chase. The offenses added up to a felony evading charge.
Judge Peter B. Foor imposed the sentence because of Thurston’s 13 prior felony convictions, and a lifetime of crime that started at 15 with a rape conviction. Thurston was on parole all of his adult life and had been out of prison for less than three weeks when he tried to flee from police.
“There has never been a time in his adult life when he has been off of parole,” Foor said.
Prosecutors had originally offered Thurston a four-year plea deal, but Thurston, who was acting as his own attorney at the time, rejected the offer.
Foor is scheduled to review Thurston’s petition Jan. 28.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.