Clemency recommended for 3-strikes offender
The state Clemency and Pardons Board this morning voted to recommend clemency for a man convicted 14 years ago of a three-strikes offense and sentenced to life in prison. If the governor agrees, Stevan Dozier will be the state's first three-strikes inmate to be released to be from prison.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Dozier's three strikes
All are second-degree robbery.
Strike 1: On Aug. 26, 1986, he punched a woman during a purse snatching.
Strike 2: He hit or grabbed two women in purse snatchings in March 1988.
Strike 3: On Feb. 1, 1994 he grabbed a woman's purse and pushed her down.
The following crimes qualify as three-strikes offenses:
Aggravated, first- and second-degree murder
First-, second- and third-degree rape
First- and second-degree manslaughter
First- and second-degree rape of a child
First- and second-degree child assault
First- and second-degree assault
Criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder or first-degree arson
Bail jumping after a first-degree-murder arrest
First- and second-degree child molestation;
Criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree murder
Criminal attempt to commit first-degree murder or first-degree arson
Homicide by abuse
First- and second-degree kidnapping
Leading organized crime
First- and second-degree robbery
Controlled substance homicide
Incest against a child under 14
First-degree promoting prostitution
Vehicular homicide when caused by the influence of drugs or alcohol
King County Prosecutor's Office
OLYMPIA — The state Clemency and Pardons Board this morning voted to recommend clemency for a man convicted 14 years ago of a three-strikes offense and sentenced to life in prison.
The board voted 4-0 to recommend that Stevan Dozier be released from prison, where he has spent the past 14 years after being convicted of second-degree robbery. The recommendation now goes to Gov. Christine Gregoire.
If Gregoire approves the clemency, Dozier will be the first inmate sentenced to life under the state's three-strikes law to be released from prison.
Board members said they will send their recommendation and a copy of a transcript from the two-hour hearing to Gregoire. It's unclear when the governor will make a decision in the case.
Among those speaking on Dozier's behalf during this morning's clemency hearing in Olympia were King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, the judge who sentenced Dozier to prison and John Carlson, one of the authors of the state's three-strikes law. All agree that Dozier deserves a second chance at freedom.
"I accept personal responsibility for my past," Dozier told the board by telephone from the Monroe Correctional Complex. "I used to lack respect for other people and their belongings. I have changed."
Fourteen years ago, Dozier was hooked on crack cocaine, an addiction he funded by snatching women's purses and striking his victims in the face if they fought back.
On Feb. 1, 1994, Dozier attacked 69-year-old Mary Bedford as she was walking into her North Seattle apartment. He knocked her to the ground, punched her in the face and grabbed her wallet.
The robbery resulted in an automatic life sentence for Dozier — only the sixth felon to commit a third-strike offense in the year that the law had been in effect.
Under the original intent of three strikes, that would have been the last time society would hear from Dozier.
But after examining his case, Satterberg, Carlson and King County Superior Court Judge Brian Gain argued for his release. . While their reasons differed slightly, all agreed on one thing: Dozier, a model prisoner in the years since his conviction, deserves another chance at freedom.
For Satterberg, who has spent a career putting felons behind bars, arguing on Dozier's behalf will help correct what he considers a disproportionately stiff sentence written into the original law. Dozier's third-strike offense was second-degree robbery, a crime Satterberg's office rarely uses as a strike crime.
"Three strikes was a reaction to a high rate of violent crime that we were experiencing in the early '90s," Satterberg said. "I think instituting a review of these cases is a necessary component. We don't want to throw away the key when it comes to these people."
Carlson, the conservative radio talk-show host who helped write the law that was passed in 1993, said that the names of other three-strikers have come up over the years as deserving of clemency. But, in his eyes, Dozier is the first to measure up to his standards.
"After 15 years I think we have found the guy," said Carlson, who also spoke on Dozier's behalf. "There aren't that many sympathetic three-strikers."
If released, Dozier, 46, will be the state's first three-striker to be granted clemency based upon the length of the sentence, the crime he committed and his behavior in prison. Satterberg said he has already spoken to Gregoire about the case but said that she did not indicate whether she would sign off on Dozier's release.
While Carlson stands behind Dozier's original sentence — saying that his hard work behind bars has earned him the rare position of being a possible candidate for clemency — Satterberg questions whether many felons convicted of second-degree robbery should be serving life for a third-strike offense.
Satterberg said he has asked a handful of his prosecutors to review many of the county's first three-strike cases to make sure the sentence of life without parole fit the crime. Satterberg believes there are people serving a life sentence who should no longer be incarcerated.
"A life sentence for a purse-snatching is a disproportionate punishment," Satterberg said.
Washington was the first state in the nation to enact a three-strikes law when The Persistent Offender Accountability Act was passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1993. The law called for life imprisonment without parole if a person was convicted three separate times on one of about 40 different felonies, from attempted second-degree assault to murder.
"Three strikes was aimed at two types of criminals: serious violent thugs and those convicted of lesser, more numerous, violations over and over," Carlson said.
Within the first year that the law was on the books, 12 of the 15 cases adjudicated in King County involved robbery. Dozier's case was among them.
Since the mid-1990s, the King County Prosecutor's Office has shifted how second-degree robbery and other "lowest ranking" strike offenses are handled. For second-degree robbery, Satterberg said, prosecutors will often charge third-strike cases as a first-degree theft, which doesn't result in an automatic life sentence.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, stands behind the existing law.
Carrell said he hasn't heard about Dozier's case but points out that he and other legislators have reviewed the 1993 law before and "don't think the three-strikes law needs to be messed with."
"It's up to the prosecutors in general to make sure the charge they are filing against somebody is really appropriate," said Carrell, who is on the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee. "If they decided at the time that this person was attempting to do bodily harm, I don't know if hereafter the fact we should be second-guessing them."
Dozier was convicted of three separate counts of second-degree robbery between 1986 and 1994. The Rainier Beach High School graduate wanted cash from his victims to pay for cocaine, said his attorney Jeffrey Ellis.
"His story is that of a guy whose life was derailed by crack cocaine," Ellis said. "Because of the allure of money, because his addiction was so strong, he would use force to get the purses."
Factoring in Dozier's criminal history, he has already been behind bars twice as long as he would have been had the crime not resulted in a third strike, prosecutors said.
Dozier declined to comment on Wednesday because he was busy preparing for his testimony before the clemency board today. He has been incarcerated at the Monroe Correctional Complex since his conviction.
Satterberg praises Dozier for maintaining a minimum-wage prison job, attending drug treatment and sending money home to his adult autistic son. According to the state Department of Corrections, Dozier hasn't received a major infraction for more than a decade.
"Here is someone who has no motive to be a model inmate and [no hope] of gaining freedom again and turned his life around," Carlson said. "He has won the confidence of people within the institution and outside the institution."
In a letter to Gregoire and Margaret Smith, chair of the Clemency and Pardons Board, Satterberg said that Dozier "has expressed remorse of his crimes many times over the years."
Satterberg also said his clemency recommendation "is in no way meant to minimize the trauma and injury that Mr. Dozier inflicted on his victims many years ago."
Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the prosecutor's office, spoke with Mary Bedford, the woman Dozier robbed in 1994, while Satterberg was weighing whether to seek his clemency to get her input.
"The lady in the third strike is 85 now, she lives in Eastern Washington and doesn't want him to do it again and doesn't want him released," Goodhew said.
Ellis said the support for Dozier's release leaves him hopeful that other three-strikes cases could also be up for review.
But Carlson cautions that every three-striker up for possible release needs to have his case reviewed thoroughly.
"It is best to review three-strikes cases one at a time rather than apply a different rule to all second-degree robberies," Carlson said. "Justice is individual."
Information from Seattle Times archives is contained in this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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