Man Freed After Serving 13 Years in Prison for Trying to Steal Food

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LOS ANGELES -- Gregory Taylor, who served 13 years of his life sentence for breaking into a Los Angeles church food bank, is now a free man.

Taylor walked out of the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Thursday afternoon greeted by family and friends.

He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 1997 under California's three-strikes law after he tried to steal food from a downtown Los Angeles church.

A judge ruled last week that Taylor's sentence was too harsh. His case has become a symbol of injustice for critics of California's Three Strikes law.

The district attorney, Steve Cooley, did not oppose the petition presented by the Stanford Law Project.

On Thursday, Taylor told reporters that he is a "changed man" and thanked God for giving him another chance. He says he plans to work in a soup kitchen helping others who are also looking for a second chance.

Taylor was arrested in July 1997 after being caught trying to pry open a screen over the kitchen door of a Los Angeles church.

He said he was trying to get something to eat.

A priest testified that Taylor had often been given food at the church and had sometimes been allowed to sleep there.

He was convicted of burglary for using a board to reach inside the church in an attempt to commit theft.

A prosecutor said Taylor may have been trying to steal valuable items such as chalices and alms boxes.

Taylor's attorney argued the crime was misdemeanor trespassing because Taylor thought he had the right to take food.

Because of two prior robbery convictions in the 1980s, the burglary was Taylor's third strike under California sentencing laws, requiring a sentence of 25 years to life.

Superior Court Judge James Dunn refused to use his authority to disregard one or both of Taylor's past convictions, which would have lessened his sentence.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld his conviction in a 2-1 ruling.

The court agreed with Dunn's refusal to instruct the jury that the crime would be only trespassing, and not burglary, if Taylor believed he had the right or permission to take food from the church.

Although Taylor may have believed that the priests had consented to his past acceptance of food, he could not have held a good-faith belief that he had the right to break into the church, the court said.

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