After spending the last 17 years in prison, Pedro Marin Jr. will likely be back home with family in time for Christmas.
Marin became the first convicted felon in Kern County who was resentenced and will soon be free under the changes to California's Three Strikes law. Serving a sentence of 25 years to life, Marin was resentenced Wednesday by Kern County Superior Court Judge Colette M. Humphrey to time served.
Family members sobbed uncontrollably outside the courtroom. Marin's mother, Helen Rolon, said she always had hope that her son would someday be released.
"I'm in heaven," Rolon said.
Marin, 51, was resentenced under reform brought by Proposition 36. Kern County Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford said the prosecutor's office disagrees with the new law, but will abide by it and go through each case one by one to determine and argue against the release of those who pose an unreasonable risk.
Previously, a person who was twice convicted of a violent or serious felony was given a minimum sentence of 25 years to life for a third felony conviction of any type. Under the change to the law, someone with two strikes who commits a nonserious or nonviolent felony will only be sentenced to twice the usual length for that new crime.
Some in prison -- like Marin -- who would not have received a life sentence under the new law are eligible to apply for resentencing.
While families like Marin's are rejoicing, prosecutors say those convicted under the Three Strikes law were incarcerated for good reason -- they're dangerous.
Deputy District Attorney Alexandria Sawoya said Marin received his first strike for robbing a pregnant woman of her purse in 1984. He got his second strike for stealing merchandise from a JC Penney in 1990 and struggling with an employee of the store.
Marin has a total of 12 convictions on his record, Sawoya said.
Of the two men who were sentenced to time served under Proposition 36 Wednesday, Marin had the less egregious record.
Randy Lee Johnson was resentenced just a few minutes after Marin. Johnson, 53, will also likely be released within the next few days.
Johnson's third strike was for felony drug possession, and he's spent the past 14 and a half years in prison. But he also has a couple of home invasion robberies on his record.
Sawoya said Johnson convinced an 18-year-old to open the door for him and then bound the victim's hands and ankles with leather straps. According to court documents, Johnson, who was armed with a gun, told the victim, "I've killed before and I'll kill again so be cooperative."
In the other robbery, Johnson and an accomplice entered the home of a 74-year-old woman, Sawoya said. The accomplice beat the woman, who was then tied with electrical cord.
The prosecutor said Johnson has seven convictions as a juvenile plus another 13 as an adult. He's also been in trouble while in prison, including two marks on his record for fighting.
Sawoya said a common misconception regarding the Three Strikes law is that people think defendants are receiving life sentences just for felony drug possession or a similar offense. But the sentence is also handed down for the violent crimes in a defendant's past.
"I disagree with the ruling, especially with Mr. Johnson," Sawoya said of Wednesday's hearings.
She added that she's disappointed with the new law and believes it will lead to more crime as Three Strikes prisoners are released.
Helen Ante, a sister of Marin, said her brother has been a model prisoner since his incarceration in the late 1970s. His third strike was for petty theft, and Ante said that crime shouldn't have led to a life sentence for her brother.
Life sentences should be reserved for murderers, rapists and others who commit horrible crimes, she said.
"All we wanted on this reform is for the time served to fit the crime," Ante said.
Deputy Public Defender Amanda Moceri said each of her client's strikes were many years ago, and he's participated in several self-help programs while in prison and proven he's rehabilitated.
"Mr. Marin is really one of the poster children for Prop. 36," she said.
Susan Johnson, Randy Johnson's wife, said she's thankful Humphrey was fair and unbiased in making her decision. Susan Johnson said she and her family had gradually adjusted over the years to the hard fact that her husband would live out his days behind bars.
The resentencing left her "totally overwhelmed." She said the first thing they'll do upon her husband's release is fulfill his request for a steak and lobster dinner.
"Injustice was ended and justice was served," she said.
Defense attorney Mark Anthony Raimondo, representing Randy Johnson, said he was relieved by Humphrey's decision because with a new, untested law the outcome is never certain.