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Families Argue Against 3 Strikes

November 5, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fred and Tereso Zullo and dozens of others traveled Tuesday from California to the Supreme Court hoping to tell their loved ones’ stories to anybody willing to listen.

The stories are about California’s three-strikes law, which produces the nation’s harshest penalties for repeat offenders, and its effects on families and others close to people sentenced under it for relatively petty crimes.

``It’s taken a bad toll on our family,″ Fred Zullo said outside the Supreme Court. ``We’re hoping the court overturns this law.″

He spoke an hour before the justices were to hear two cases charging that California’s law produces unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishments. Fred Zullo said his mentally ill son, Philip, faces a 90-year prison term for making terrorist threats.

The Zullos said their son is an obsessive compulsive. When he called the Ventura County Police Department three times threatening to kill officers, they said, Philip Zullo was trying to commit suicide by enticing the police to shoot him. He has two prior convictions for similar behavior, and his trial is scheduled early next year.

Chana Orozco, of San Diego, said her husband, Luciano, is serving 25 years for possessing $5 worth of heroin. Nearly in tears, the 63-year-old woman said if the justices don’t overturn the law, she won’t be alive to see her husband a free man.

``He had a child that was 3 when he went in,″ she said. ``We were married only three months before he went in.″

Her husband, a heroin addict, must spend at least 25 years in prison for the heroin charge, because he had two prior felony residential burglary convictions that triggered the three-strikes law.

Passed in 1994 with 72 percent voter approval, the law requires a 25-years-to-life term for a felony committed by someone already convicted of two felonies such as rape, murder, robbery, burglary or certain other crimes.

The law also requires these convicts to serve their full sentences before becoming eligible for parole. That requirement has swelled the ranks inside the state’s prisons, where more than 7,100 inmates are serving three-strike sentences.

One of those inmates is Reginald Ellis, given a 25-year sentence in San Bernardino for being a felon in a household with an illegal weapon.

``We’re here to see the victory, to pray, to witness the landmark victory that is going to set my brother free,″ said his sister, Barbara Ellis.

Inmate Pedro Verduzco of Riverside is serving 25 years for possessing a half-gram of methamphetamine after already being convicted of burglary and drug possession.

``It’s inhumane. This is our last hope,″ said Verduzco’s brother, Jose.

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