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San Diego Man Freed From Life Sentence, Military Racism, Top Weekend Events

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A San Diego man was freed from a life sentence under a new state law. Also, in 1969, the military thought it had eliminated racism from its ranks, then troops began rioting, and a look at San Diego’s top weekend events.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 A San Diego man is out of prison 33 years before his first parole date because of a new state law. Kent Williams is believed to be the first prisoner in the state to be re-sentenced under ab 29 42 it's a law that expands three strikes, re-sentencing, which started after voters amended the law in 2012 this law allows prosecutors to review cases that don't fit those guidelines but are determined to be unjustly harsh. Journey me is San Diego County chief Deputy Da. Duane Woodley and welcome to the program. Ken Williams was originally sentenced under the three strikes law to a sentence of 50 to life. What were the crimes he was sentenced for?

Speaker 2: 00:44 He was sentenced for two residential burglaries. One of those residents or burger loses as hot prowl where hot prowl allegation, which makes it a violent offense on the California penal code section and also a, um,

Speaker 1: 00:56 and that was back in 2003. Correct. I want to go into that hot prowl burglary and talk a little bit more about what that is because that was the case that made his case ineligible for the original review under the 2012, uh, voters amendment. Correct. Tell us what a hot prowl is.

Speaker 2: 01:15 Browse when someone goes into a residence where the occupant or owner of the residence is present at the time they go into that home to commit that a residential burglary.

Speaker 1: 01:25 And that's viewed as a violent offense? Correct. Okay. The new law Ab 29 42 expands prosecutors re sentencing discretion. Tell us a little about that.

Speaker 2: 01:35 So Ab 29 42, um, allows for the district attorney to petition a court to consider re-sentencing any defendant on any case. And so prior to that passing of that law, the district attorney didn't have the power to be able to bring a case back before the court to have the court take another look at it and review it and determine whether or not that sentence was appropriate based on whatever the circumstances have changed from the time they were originally sentenced.

Speaker 1: 02:02 And what was it about this case that you felt was a good fit for this new law?

Speaker 2: 02:07 So when I was assigned to review the matter Bar District Attorney Summer Stephen, I took a look at Mr. Williams. Prior cases, took a look at his California department corrections file, has performance while he's been in prison, got information from his family. I took a look at the last 12 to 15 cases with a similar profile of Mr. Williams that we have had currently in San Diego County and looked at what the sentences were on those cases compared to, to what Mr. Williams sentence was from ninth, 2003. And you know, weighed the public safety concerns with, uh, the things that Mr. Williams did while he was in prison in custody and things that people said about him and presented that to our district attorney who made the decision in this case to petition the court to have Mr. Williams resized.

Speaker 1: 02:52 And how did the case come to the district attorney's office attention to begin with?

Speaker 2: 02:56 Pastor Cornelius Bowzer, who's a community activist, brought the case to our DA's attention and she assigned me to review it.

Speaker 1: 03:05 As you were reviewing the case, I was reading articles about this. It said that Mr. Williams turned his life around while he was in prison.

Speaker 2: 03:13 Can you tell us more about that? What did he do and looking as his prior criminal history, Mr. Williams, uh, appear to have substance abuse issue that was pretty evident as you review, as per our criminal cases. So Mr. Williams, why he's in custody, he got, um, and went to n a a, he completely addressed this substance abuse problem. Why was in custody the program that's available at the Department of Corrections. And then he also decided to, uh, mentor young people in prison, um, folks that specifically were going to get out of prison to help them turn their lives around. Um, he did that at a time when there was no hope for him to be released from prison. He was still faced in 50 a life sentence. So, even though he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, he still wanted to do something productive for society. And so he went about going about mentoring young people, um, and help them turn their lives around and learn from the mistakes that he had made. That was all pretty evident from reviewing his file and um, talking to some of the corrections officers as well that observed him while he was in custody and in some of his behavior. And so that gave us a lot of comfort in making this decision based on how he had turned his life around.

Speaker 1: 04:19 So Mr. Williams was sentenced to 50 to life for two burglaries and car theft. What kinds of offenses would a lengthy sentence like that be a reserved for these days?

Speaker 2: 04:30 Well, it could, it varies. It also depends on what your prior record is, but you know, anywhere between 18 and 24 years of what people currently were being sentenced for 16 to 24 years currently. That, and looking at the case that we've had over the last several years, so that was about the range. None of those folks got a indeterminate term, which is basically a life sentence. They all got a determined term, which means they were to have a parole date. And so when you're looking at what we're currently doing compared to what Mr. Williams was sentenced from in 2003, that's why we thought that that may have been on a harsh lease. Did harsh sentence at the time compared to what's happening currently, is there any way to estimate how many people who are in prison now might be able to take advantage of this new law? No, not really.

Speaker 2: 05:12 I mean, it depends on a review of the records. Everybody's case is different on a case by case basis. Um, you know, part of the consideration was, uh, Mr. Williams has a lot of family support, um, that had community support that help would help him make that transition from prison to the community. Um, as you heard yesterday me, he has a job, he has a family and friends, his faith, his church all are supporting him. And that was all part of the consideration as well. That helped, uh, make RDA comfortable with this decision because he not only had a plan for when he got out of prison, he had family support to help him and he had done a lot of things to turn his life around.

Speaker 1: 05:49 Are there any other offenders that the San Diego County DA's office is looking at prisoners that may be re-sentenced under 29 42 yes. We currently have several petitions that we're reviewing currently that are under consideration. One of the same type of treatment. I've been speaking with San Diego County chief Gipd da Duane Woodley. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Speaker 1: 00:00 On a hot summer night in 1969 while other troops were fighting in Vietnam, dozens of marines at one u s base were fighting each other. A riot accomplish you, North Carolina 50 years ago. This summer was the first in a string of major racial incidents in the military and it led to massive reforms in the way the armed forces dealt with race. Jay Price of the American homefront project has this look back

Speaker 2: 00:26 for anyone who visits the calm, orderly campus une today. The atmosphere back then sounds almost unimaginable. Here's an August, 1969 report from NBC News Correspondent, Robert Garages.

Speaker 3: 00:38 The conflict on the base itself has reached the point where even Vietnam veterans fear walking at night, especially racially in Mexico, patrols have been set up to prevent further violence.

Speaker 2: 00:48 Retired Massachusetts ironworker Robert Denote whose white was a young marine stationed at Camp Lajune. Then he and friends had been at a bar on base watching the moon landing on TV.

Speaker 4: 00:59 The four or five of us walking back from the list of Man's club and about 40 black marines came around the corner and all hell broke loose, so to speak.

Speaker 2: 01:09 One of the men with him was badly beaten.

Speaker 4: 01:11 He got knocked down in the living room, stomped out of them.

Speaker 2: 01:14 Half a dozen attacks took place that night as groups of rioters roamed the base. A 20 year old white corporal named Edward Bankston was beaten to death for years beforehand. Racial tension had been rising across the military. Black troops were no happier than their white counterparts of being drafted and also faced institutionalized racism in the military. Former drill Sergeant Willie Robertson of Clayton North Carolina says, Black Marines face demeaning treatment from white troops.

Speaker 5: 01:43 April call you, it wouldn't call your private rob. He might say, hey, split up. Come here and split up. And I'm like, who's Cleo? I had no idea what he was talking about, but uh, the gas from up north, you know, they knew what it was and he, what'd he say? They call it on you eat weird.

Speaker 2: 01:57 Robertson was badly wounded in Vietnam and had been sent back to Lajune to recuperate. He was there when the rioting broke out, but didn't hear about it until later. It didn't surprise him given the tensions among black marines.

Speaker 5: 02:10 Most of them was only Asia and most of the stuff happening shortly. Right after Martin Luther King got killed, they just took it out on whites because there was a white man that killed most of the king

Speaker 2: 02:19 history. Professor James West Hider of the University of Cincinnati. Claremont is the author of fighting on two fronts, a book on African American troops during the Vietnam War. He says, black troops everywhere were on the same hair. Trigger Lagoon is really the first major racial gang fight in the military. After that, you see it in other places. West Hyder says early in the war, African Americans often saw the military in a positive light as a place where they had a chance of a good career, but with younger draftees, less tolerant of racism that began to change. One of the turning points appears to be the assassination of Dr. King and the reaction of a lot of whites in Vietnam and throughout the u s military establishment helped exacerbate this at Cameron Bay. Whites made clan uniforms and parade with the confederate flag when they heard the news. The lagoon riot caught military leaders off guard.

Speaker 2: 03:18 The surface has had been desegregated for years and West Hider says military leaders had no idea institutionalized racism remained a problem. If you look at the Department of the army's official report in 1968 they actually bragged that they had eliminated racism from the armed forces, so they did not assume that they were causing their own problem. Changes were slow, but eventually the Pentagon addressed racial disparities in the military justice system and a tackled another issue. The low number of black officers and senior enlisted leaders. The military also began to mandate race relations training and West Hider says it pressured career troops to fall in line with the new thinking. One thing about the armed forces. They can't change the way you think, but they certainly can change the way you act. And actually they did a pretty darn good job of it, but he notes that problems with white supremacists in the military have surfaced again in recent months, even half a century later, race relations in the military as in the civilian world, remain a work in progress. This is Jay price reporting.

Speaker 1: 04:23 This story was produced by the American Home Front project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.

Speaker 6: 04:42 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:00 This weekend preview is all about music. The annual Summerfest in La Jolla brings the cream of the international crop of classical musicians to us and the Carlsbad music festival gathers together all kinds of music. Add to that attribute to Elvis. And you've got yourself one sweet sounding weekend. KPBS arts editor, Nina Garren is here with all the details and Nina, welcome. Hello. So first tell us about Summerfest and why it's always such a big deal.

Speaker 2: 00:28 Summerfest is an internationally renowned chamber music festival. It brings ensembles from everywhere and they're very respected, like the Miro Quartet. And they also, um, the musicians perform these rarely heard pieces. So that's another reason to go. Like they're going to be doing, I'm symphony number 15 by shows to covet. And this is a very rare transcription for piano, trio and three percussionist.

Speaker 1: 00:54 Okay. So there are quite a few changes for this year's event. Start with the venue.

Speaker 2: 01:00 Well, that's the big news is that the Conrad is now open and all the concerts will be happening there. Over the years it was held at the Sherwood, the theater that's no longer there. And throughout venues. And La Jolla, but this is a tailor made for chamber music and it's going to be just fantastic to be able to have it all in one place.

Speaker 1: 01:20 Also, there's a new music director tell us about Enon Barnett on.

Speaker 2: 01:24 He's a world famous pianist and he's won all the grants and all the awards and he's performed with all the Philharmonics in New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles. Um, he is very exciting as a pianist and he's going to bring his energy to Summerfest.

Speaker 1: 01:39 Let's listen to [inaudible] Barton perform some Mendelson

Speaker 3: 01:56 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 02:02 The theme for this year, summer fast is transformation. What does that mean?

Speaker 2: 02:07 It means that they're going to take a look at music from different perspectives, specifically making new music from old music and working together with other art forms. There's going to be something new called the synergy series, which is going to bring some jazz singers, collaboration with Mark Morris Dance Group and even a night where you can kind of see the connection between visual arts and music.

Speaker 1: 02:31 Summerfest kicks off today and continues through August 23rd at the Conrad. Another big music festival is happening in Carlsbad. What does this one all about?

Speaker 2: 02:41 The Carlsbad Music Festival is called adventurous music by the beat because it features all kinds of music. You get new composers, indie rock bands, world music, just everything under the sun.

Speaker 1: 02:55 Okay. There's a real variety, but what kind of variety can people expect?

Speaker 2: 03:00 So one that's exciting is Mary Latta Moore. She's a harpist and she performs with like these indie rock gods, Kurt vile and Thurston Moore. She's going to be performing and then very be careful is a Los Angeles Goomba band and then you have Diana Camaro's, she's a Mexican American singer and activist. And then of course we have a lot of local axed, classical musicians. It's just really, you have to have go with an open mind and you'll be very surprised at what you'll hear. Tell us about the founder of this festival. Matt McBain. He is from San Diego, but now he's in New York and he's a composer and violinist. He's known for these very, very experimental and minimalist pieces, so they don't really sound like the kind of phones you would hear on the radio, but it really is an art form. What he does. Let's listen to a piece he composed. It's called further down performed by Mobius Percussion,

Speaker 4: 03:59 uh,

Speaker 5: 04:03 uh,

Speaker 6: 04:08 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 04:13 that was further down performed by Moebius percussion and composed by the founder of the Carlsbad Music Festival. Matt McBain. How does this festival actually work, Nina? So most of the concerts happen at St Michael's, either the lawn or the chapel, but the church that's very close to the ocean and right in the heart of Carlsbad. So you'll get like a new band performing every 30 and 40 minutes and just go show up and you know, see what happens. And this year it's free. So the concerts they used to be, if you would go inside you would have to pay. But now all the concerts are free. They are asking for a five or $10 donation. And of course there are VIP tickets where you get things like reserved seats, parking and an indoor bathroom. Carlsbad music festival happens tonight through Sunday at St Michael's by the sea. Finally Elvis is in the building.

Speaker 2: 05:08 Tell us about all shook up. He's coming back to the building. I'm all shook up is a musical that features the songs of Elvis Presley and fun fact. It was originally directed on Broadway by Christopher Ashley of La Jolla playhouse fame. The show is set in 1955 in middle America about a girl who falls in love with a mysterious hip, shaken stranger Dulles, an Elvis character appear in the musical. This is not a story about Elvis. It's not as biography or anything. Elvis does not show up. Um, it's about a small town discovering the magic and freedom of rock and roll. Let's listen to blue suede shoes from the Broadway recording of all shook up.

Speaker 3: 05:52 It's one full of money. Two books show read to get ready now. Don't you step on my sweets? You, you can do in it named Optima sleek. Knock me down.

Speaker 2: 06:10 It's not Elvis. Tell us about the local production. It's being put on by San Diego musical theater and the directors, Robert Townsend, who people might know is a very popular local actor. He's always in the grant. He was recently in South Pacific. He has one of my favorite theater voices and the choreography is by Michael. Ms Ramy, and he demands a lot from his dancers. So you can expect this to just be a great choreographed piece.

Speaker 1: 06:38 All shook up open Saturday and runs through September 1st at the Horton Grand Theater. And you can find more arts events at kpbs.org/arts I've been speaking with KPBS arts editor, Nina Garren. Nina. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 06:52 Thanks. Have a great weekend.

Speaker 3: 06:55 Knock the down step on my face. Slammed Monday mall though

Speaker 1: 07:01 midday edition is cohosted by Jade Heinemann, produced by Marissa Cabrera and Brooke Ruth. Our segment producers are Beth Haka, Mondo and Nina Garren, midday edition senior producers. Megan Bourke and our executive producer is Natalie Walsh. Rebecca Chacan is our technical director. Stay with us for KPBS round tables coming up right after the break. I'm Maureen. Kevin off. Have a great weekend.

Speaker 3: 07:32 [inaudible] burn

Speaker 1: 07:32 house, steal my car.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.