Robber freed from life term; other 3-strike inmates hoping
Now that Stevan Dozier has become the state's first three-strikes offender to regain his freedom, the same outcome could await two other men who have already served roughly 15 years behind bars after being convicted in King County for crimes similar to Dozier's.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Three drug addicts. Three strikes. Three life sentences for snatching purses or stealing wallets.
Now that Stevan Dozier has become the state's first three-strikes offender to regain his freedom, after Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a conditional clemency order on Thursday, the same outcome could await two other men who have already served roughly 15 years behind bars after being convicted in King County for similar crimes.
Next month, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg intends to testify before the state Clemency and Pardons Board on behalf of Al-Kareem Shadeed and Michael Bridges, just as he did for Dozier in December.
"We've got to hold open the hope that when we send people to the reformatory, they actually reform," Satterberg said Friday, adding that in his opinion, all three men have done just that. "It sends a powerful message to the people in prison when they see the governor grant clemency: Behavior matters and could potentially one day lead to your release."
Dozier, Shadeed and Bridges all battled drug addiction, and each earned his third strike for committing "unsophisticated street crimes to get a small amount of money to buy a small amount of dope," Satterberg said.
None of them used weapons, and their victims weren't seriously injured.
Dozier, now 47, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for snatching an elderly woman's purse, pushing her to the ground and punching her in the face in early 1994. Though he never had reason to hope for release, he worked to make himself a better man anyway, said his attorney, Jeff Ellis.
Dozier kicked his drug habit — despite the relative ease of obtaining drugs in prison — reconciled with his wife and mentored young inmates, counseling them to avoid the same path he regretted choosing for himself, Ellis said.
"He spent 15 years trying to turn his life around at a time when there weren't any reasons to be hopeful," Ellis said. "He made those changes for the sake of his soul."
In December, the state Clemency and Pardons Board voted unanimously to recommend clemency for Dozier after he won the support of Satterberg, the judge who sentenced him and the man who helped write the 1993 Persistent Offender Accountability Act. Those endorsements and testimony about Dozier's model behavior behind bars weighed in his favor during the governor's lengthy deliberations, said Pearse Edwards, a spokesman for the governor.
Dozier likely will be the most closely watched ex-con in the state. Among the conditions he must abide by or risk being sent back to prison, Dozier must regularly report to his community corrections officer, submit to random drug tests and perform community service by counseling at-risk youths, said Edwards.
"It's not very often the governor does this," Edwards said. "This is only the second conditional commutation she's done this term and the first three-strikes convict that she's granted (clemency)."
Dozier, a Rainier Beach High School graduate, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of his third second-degree robbery charge in 1994. All three of his crimes were for snatching elderly women's purses. He became the sixth felon to commit a third-strike offense in the first year the law was in effect.
The victim of Dozier's last crime, now 85, told a member of the prosecutor's office that she didn't want him to be released.
Satterberg told The Seattle Times in December that he argued on Dozier's behalf to help correct what he considered a disproportionately stiff sentence written into the original law.
"A life sentence for a purse snatching is a disproportionate punishment," Satterberg said at the time, explaining that since the mid-1990s his office has shifted how second-degree robbery and other low-ranking three-strike offenses are handled.
In the early years of the three-strikes law, Satterberg said, prosecutors across the state didn't realize how much discretion they had under the law. Now, though, "we've carved out for ourselves the ability to go another route" and are exercising that discretion more often, he said.
Dozier, who will live in Seattle, plans to work for the janitorial service his wife owns, Ellis said. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while in prison, Dozier would like to return to his former occupation as a welder but might be unable to do so because the heat may exacerbate his disease, his lawyer said.
Through Ellis, Dozier declined to be interviewed on Friday.
"He'd like to spend the first few days of his freedom privately thanking those people who have supported him," Ellis wrote in an e-mail.
On June 11, Shadeed's and Bridges' cases are expected to be heard by the clemency board.
Shadeed, now 39, was 24 when he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of a third-strike crime, attempted second-degree robbery, for trying to steal a wallet belonging to Craig MacGowan, a popular Garfield High School teacher, in 1994. His attorney, Paul Holland, could not be reached for comment.
Bridges, now 47, was also sentenced to life in 1994 on a second-degree robbery charge, following previous convictions for second-degree robbery in 1987 and 1989.
"He's a perfect candidate for clemency and should never have been charged with three strikes in the first place — and I think both sides agree with that," said Bridges' attorney, Sheryl Gordon McCloud.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
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