Three strikes you’re out? Santa Cruz Co. man seeks release under revised state law

April 9, 2013

It’s been about 15 years since Kevin O’Connell was sent to prison for the rest of his life after being convicted by a jury of pawning a stolen pendant and later selling it to his former landlady.

That 1998 felony conviction for receiving stolen property marked his third strike under California’s three strikes law, thus giving a Santa Cruz County judge authority to hand down a life sentence for O’Connell. The since-retired judge denied a motion to strike one of O’Connell’s strikes, even though the 1998 conviction was his first in 16 years, court records show.

O’Connell had previously spent time in prison for a 1975 second-degree burglary conviction, a 1980 robbery conviction, a 1981 assault and a 1982 first-degree burglary.

Thanks to a revision passed by voters in November though, O’Connell could be getting out a lot sooner. He’s due back in court April 15 for a possible step forward in his quest for freedom, or at the very least, re-sentencing.

The Santa Cruz County resident is just one of hundreds of people locked up in California’s prisons under the three strikes law, many for crimes as seemingly minor as certain shoplifting offenses, missing a parole appointment or writing a bad check.

Outrage following the murder of  12-year-old Polly Klaas  in 1993 was a catalyst for the passage of the state’s three strikes law, which was long considered the harshest in the nation. Klaas was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and killed by Richard Allen Davis, a parolee with a lengthy and violent criminal record. Had three-strikes been in place back then, Davis likely would have remained in prison and Polly Klaas would still be alive.

Voters in November passed Proposition 36, which revised the three strikes law. Under the revised law, a life sentence may be imposed only when the new felony conviction is for a serious or violent crime. That comes with exceptions though. Convictions for certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses are still authorized for the three strikes policy of sentencing, as are some that involved firearm possession. There’s also another caveat: if one of the prior strikes was for rape, child molestation or murder, the individual isn’t eligible for possible re-sentencing.

The revision provided hope for many of the state’s approximately 8,000 inmates serving life sentences under the three strikes law because it applies retroactively. So far though, the re-sentencing process has been a bit slow going around the state.

O’Connell has lobbied hard for himself, writing numerous letters to the court and filing several failed appeals. He sent a petition for resentencing immediately after the revised law was passed in November, court records show. When nearly three weeks passed before he’d had a response, he sent a follow up letter complaining about not having received the petition paperwork in a more timely fashion.

O’Connell was brought back to Santa Cruz County Jail from Mule Creek State Prison in early January. He’s been waiting there ever since as attorneys hash out details and awaited records from the California Department of Corrections on his behavior while there.

Further reading:

The Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Shame of Three Strikes Laws (Matt Taibi for Rolling Stone)


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact SCN

Comments, queries and ideas can be sent to