Fifteen years ago, the gangly laborer made worldwide headlines when he
was convicted of snatching a slice of pizza from a group of children
near the Redondo Beach Pier. A judge, citing California’s newly adopted
three-strikes law, sentenced him to 25 years to life.
Williams — dubbed the “pizza thief” — became an iconic symbol in the
political and ideological battle over California’s push to get tough on
crime. But as the public furor over his case subsided, Williams
persuaded a judge to reduce his prison term, and he was quietly released
after a little more than five years behind bars.
A decade later, Williams finds himself serving a different kind of life
“I walk on eggshells,” he said. “Any little thing that I do, I could be
back for the rest of my life.”
Controversial life sentences under the three-strikes law are hardly
novel. Those sentenced under the law include a thief caught shoplifting a
bottle of vitamins and a drug addict who swiped nine videotapes to sell
But few cases have polarized opinion as much as Williams’ theft of an
extra-large slice of pepperoni pizza. The case continues to divide
today, resurfacing whenever opponents of the law launch another reform
Williams’ story since his release offers fuel to both backers and
opponents of three strikes.
For opponents, Williams’ success in staying out of prison repudiates one
of the central ideas behind the law: That three-strikes offenders are
beyond redemption and should be locked up for life.
For supporters of the law, Williams’ efforts to avoid trouble illustrate
how three strikes is working as a powerful deterrent.
Read the full story.
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