Jerry Dewayne Williams — dubbed California’s “pizza thief” — became an iconic symbol in the political and ideological battle over the state’s push to get tough on crime, says the Los Angeles Times. As the public furor over his case subsided, Williams persuaded a judge to reduce his prison term, and he was released after a little more than five years behind bars. To stay clear of trouble, he left behind the Compton neighborhood where police knew him and cut ties with friends from wilder days. Once a hard partier, the 43-year-old now prefers the company of a mystery novel or a “Law and Order” episode on television.
Williams is one of more than 14,000 felons who, under California’s three-strikes law, face a possible life sentence if they commit another felony. But few, if any, grasp the reality of that threat better than Williams. Fifteen years ago, the laborer made worldwide headlines when he was convicted of snatching a slice of pizza from a group of children. A judge, citing California’s newly adopted three-strikes law, sentenced him to 25 years to life. A decade later, Williams is serving a different kind of life sentence. “I walk on eggshells,” he said. “Any little thing that I do, I could be back for the rest of my life.”