Jerry Keenan, a Sacramento insurance company owner, has spent $1.56 million to push a ballot initiative that would change California’s three-strikes sentencing law. The Los Angeles Times says the measure could free his son from Folsom prison, where he is serving eight years for a drunk-driving crash that killed two passengers. The initiative is likely to qualify for the ballot soon. Parents of the two 19-year-olds who died in Richard Keenan’s car in 1999 said the father is trying to use his wealth to help his son avoid responsibility.
Many initiatives in California have been “immensely personal” for their backers, said Elizabeth Garrett, director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. A father whose daughter was murdered in Fresno, pushed for passage of the 1994 three-strikes initiative. Proponents say the new measure would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by reserving lengthy sentences for serious and violent felons, instead of requiring long prison terms for some people who commit relatively minor crimes. Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, whose office prosecuted Richard Keenan, denounced the proposed initiative, saying: “He should have to pay for his crimes like everyone else. Let’s not forget that he killed two people.” The measure is opposed by law enforcement groups, from county prosecutors and sheriffs to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association and various crime victims groups. They are concerned that its various provisions could result in the release of thousands of inmates who could pose a danger to society.