Sandra Lawrence, 61, spent 24 years in prison for murdering her lover’s wife with a gun and a potato peeler while in a jealous rage. A model inmate, she received a second chance at freedom last summer when a court ordered her released. She has reunited with family in Los Angeles, says the Los Angeles Times. She may have to return to prison if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can convince the California Supreme Court that she remains a threat to public safety. The court is poised to deice the fate of 10 convicted murderers seeking freedom, including Lawrence. The justices are expected to discuss when killers should be set free? What are the limits, if any, on the governor’s power to decide? Can factors like an inmate’s prison record and age be more significant than a horrendous crime committed decades ago?
In at least 28 cases since late 2005, including Lawrence’s, judges have overturned Schwarzenegger’s parole denials for inmates who appeared to have reformed or who seemed too sick or elderly to pose a serious threat anymore. Some remain in prison pending appeals. “This is an extremely high reversal rate,” said Rich Pfeiffer, an Orange County attorney who represents inmates. “It was so completely unfair, the courts finally had to do something. The governor can basically resentence these inmates to life without possibility of parole.” The California’s Crime Victims Action Alliance has criticized the parole board for creating a “dangerous society” and has called Schwarzenegger too lenient. Academics and advocates for prisoners say long-term inmates convicted of violent crimes have the lowest rates of re-offending. Most are old when they get out and they committed crimes against people they knew, which are not likely to be repeated.