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New State Law Frees San Diego Man From Life Sentence

Kent Williams, fourth from left, stands with his wife and daughter at the press conference where District Attorney Summer Stephan, in the foreground, announces that he is believed to be the first person to benefit from AB 2942 on Aug. 1, 2019.
Alexander Nguyen
Kent Williams, fourth from left, stands with his wife and daughter at the press conference where District Attorney Summer Stephan, in the foreground, announces that he is believed to be the first person to benefit from AB 2942 on Aug. 1, 2019.
Kent Joy Williams is likely the first person freed under a new law that allows prosecutors to review old cases and recommend resentencing, District Attorney Summer Stephan announced Thursday.

A San Diego man is likely the first person freed under a new law that allows prosecutors to review old cases and recommend resentencing, District Attorney Summer Stephan announced Thursday.

In 2003, Kent Joy Williams, 57, was sentenced 50-years-to-life under the state's three-strikes law for burglarizing two North Park homes and stealing a car. In 2012, voters amended the law and many non-violent offenders were resentenced.

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Williams was not eligible because one of his convictions involved a hot-prowl burglary, meaning someone was home while the crime was being committed. But cases involving people like Williams, who has turned his life around, prompted Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, to introduce AB 2942, a bill that allows prosecutors the discretion to review old cases.

"We have so many folks in our correction system who are serving time that is excessive, that they have sentences that they wouldn't have if they were convicted today,” Ting said. “They were convicted under a different time. They were convicted under a different period when our state really believed that the longer we put people away, the better it is, the safer it is. "

Prior to this, only the state Board of Parole hearings or the California Corrections Secretary could initiate and recommend resentencing.

Williams case was brought to the D.A.’s attention last year, but Stephan said her office could not do anything about it until January, when Ting’s bill went into effect.

"After we completed the review process, we believed Mr. Williams met the letter and the spirit of the law and that he was deserving of this relief,” Stephan said. “We believe Mr. Williams is the first person in our state of California to benefit from AB 2942."

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Her office submitted the motion to resentence Williams on May 23 and the judge, who originally sentenced him, agreed. Williams was freed in June — 33 years before his original parole date, scheduled for 2052.

“I hadn't seen my daughter in 26 years," Williams said. "I have five grandchildren. My son has two sons. Relationship has been restored. Restoration has been a part of this.”

Williams said he had given up hope of ever being freed, but decided to turn his life around because it was the right thing to do.

He is now working to help people who were in his position to turn their lives around, he said.

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