Three Strikes and He's Out (of Prison)! Homeless Man Spent 13 Years Behind Bars After Trying to Break into Church Kitchen

Stanford Law students Gabriel Martinez and Reiko Rogozen sit next to Gregory Taylor (AP Photo/Anne Cusack, Pool)
Calif. Man Freed From Three-Strike 25 Year Sentence
Stanford Law students Gabriel Martinez and Reiko Rogozen sit next to Gregory Taylor (AP Photo/Anne Cusack, Pool)

LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) A California man who spent 13 years in prison after trying to break into a church to find something to eat, and who became an example of the state's strict three-strikes law, has been ordered released from prison by a Superior Court judge.

Tears rolled down the face of 47-year-old Gregory Taylor when Judge Peter Espinoza ordered that he be set free, reducing his sentence from 25 years to life, to the time he has already served.

Taylor was arrested in July 1997 when he tried to get into the kitchen of St. Joseph's Church in downtown Los Angeles. When apprehended, he simply told police that he was hungry.

In a few days Taylor will be a free man.

During Taylor's original sentencing the church's pastor, the Rev. Alan McCoy, testified that Taylor was frequently given food and allowed to sleep at the church.

Judge Espinoza said that the church break-in was not a crime of violence, "but drug addiction and homelessness," and claimed that the state's three-strikes mandatory sentencing policies of the 1990s "produced inconsistent and disproportionate results."

Taylor was convicted of third-strike burglary in 1997 because of his criminal history, in which he was convicted of two robberies in the 1980s. In both cases Taylor did not use a weapon and no one was injured.

His case was taken on by Gabriel Martinez and Reiko Rogozen, two Stanford University law students. Rogozen began working on Taylor's case in January as part of Stanford Law School's Three-Strike Project, which filed a summons of habeas corpus seeking freedom for Taylor. The district attorney did not oppose the group's move.

After the verdict was read, Taylor modestly thanked his lawyers and his family.

His 78-year-old mother, Lois Taylor, was elated by the judge's decision. She said her son was famished and needed a home-cooked meal, which she intends to give him by throwing a huge barbecue to celebrate his release.

After his paperwork is complete and he is released from prison, Taylor plans to live in Pomona with his younger brother who manages a food pantry where Taylor will be employed.