Californian Gregory Taylor’s case was so egregious that an appellate justice likened him to Jean Valjean of “Les Miserables,” so disconcerting that he became the centerpiece of debate in a district attorney’s race, so bewildering that a chapter was devoted to his story in a 2005 book about California’s three-strikes law, says the Los Angeles Times. Taylor was a 35-year-old homeless man when he was arrested in 1997 for attempting to break into the kitchen of a Catholic church that served the poor, where he was a regular and occasionally volunteered. He told the arresting officer that he was hungry and wanted something to eat. A priest from the church testified in his defense, saying Taylor was welcome there.
Because of his two prior felony convictions – snatching a purse containing $10 and a bus pass, and an unarmed, unsuccessful attempt to rob a man on the street – Taylor was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for his third strike. Until two Stanford law students took up his case earlier this year, Taylor languished in prison with little hope of getting out: He was not eligible for parole until 2022. Yesterday, a judge ordered Taylor’s release, ruling on a petition of habeas corpus filed by the students. The pair were part of a Stanford Law School project devoted to helping three-strikes inmates serving lengthy sentences for minor third offenses. So far, the project has won the release of 14 inmates, said Michael Romano, its director. Judge Peter Espinoza said the 194 three-strikes law produced “unintended and unanticipated consequences” in its early years. New evidence presented by the students of Taylor’s character, medical history and exposure to domestic violence and trauma as a child showed that he falls “outside the spirit of the three-strikes law,” the judge said.