Jerry Dewayne Williams - a small-time street criminal described by his girlfriend as a man with a taste for “stupid, stupid” crimes - was found guilty Friday of stealing a single slice of pepperoni pizza and now faces 25 years to life in prison under California’s sweeping “three strikes” law.
Word of the Superior Court verdict in suburban Torrance and the specter of a life sentence for the 27-year-old Compton warehouseman appalled critics of the law, and is certain to fuel debate between those who say the law is the get-tough stance a society of victims has long demanded and those who believe it imposes unfair punishment.
After nearly three days of deliberations, an eight-woman, four-man jury deadlocked on two charges of robbery against Williams, but convicted him of felony petty theft for swiping a piece of pizza from four children last July.
As testimony in the trial wrapped up early this week, Williams and his attorney held out hope that, if convicted, Judge Donald F. Pitts might strike one of Williams’s previous felony convictions, thereby eliminating any chance of a 25-years to life term.
But those hopes sank deeply when an appeals court ruled Tuesday that judges have no power to disregard such prior convictions.
Williams had previously been convicted of four other felonies: robbery, attempted robbery, unauthorized use of a motorized vehicle and possession of a controlled substance.