A San Diego man who was serving 70 years to life in prison had his sentence cut to eight years by Gov. Jerry Brown, who slashed the term over the objections of local prosecutors.
The commutation by Brown was one of 19 the governor handed down Dec. 23, the latest in an annual exercise of the governor’s clemency power.
He also pardoned 132 people, including seven who were convicted of largely minor crimes in San Diego courts.
Brown commuted the sentence of Jeremy Stewart, 33, who was sentenced to 70 years to life in prison in October 2010. He was convicted of burglarizing two homes and stealing thousands of dollars in property, Brown wrote.
Stewart had previous convictions for a variety of crimes including other burglaries, receiving stolen property, petty theft and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Add it all up and he was sentenced to 25 years to life for each of the first-degree burglaries under the “three-strikes” law, with another 20-year felony enhancement sentence added on.
Brown said Stewart’s crimes were fueled by a long term drug habit that he has worked to address in prison. He heads a 12-step group in prison, was lauded by prison guards who wrote to Brown, has earned a community college degree while behind bars and has never been disciplined while in prison.
Stewart’s mother, Elizabeth Stewart of Santee, has mounted a petition drive on change.org advocating for her son’s release. It’s garnered more than 50,000 signatures.
The petition argues that the lengthy sentence was the result of the unjust application of the three-strikes law in effect at the time.The law has since been changed so that nonviolent offenders, like Stewart, would not always receive such lengthy life sentences.
“He has been a model prisoner,” Stewart wrote of her son in the petition. “Jeremy made a terrible mistake, but should a nonviolent crime put him behind bars for life?”
Stewart cares for her son’s two children, and in the petition sought a sentence reduction to 20 years. Brown went further, saying Stewart had worked in prison to “put his life on a productive path” and his sentence would not allow him a chance at parole for decades.
Brown noted that both the Board of Parole Hearings recommended a commutation, as did the state Supreme Court in their reviews of the case.
He also wrote that one victim of the burglaries opposed clemency, apparently because that person still did not feel safe.
The San Diego District Attorney’s office also opposed clemency — a fact Brown did not mention in his message — because of both the overall circumstances of the case and the victim’s concerns, a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan said.
“Given the totality of the circumstances, including the defendant’s criminal history, the District Attorney’s Office opposed Jeremy Stewart’s petitions for clemency based in part on a request from one of his victims, who continues to feel vulnerable and afraid to be home alone, years after being victimized,” spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said in an email.
Elizabeth Stewart did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. However she wrote in a Christmas Day posting on the change.org site that she and her two grandchildren were at a restaurant when they received a phone call with the news of the commutation.
“Everyone in the restaurant could hear us crying,” she wrote. “The kids and I were overwhelmed with tears. Our waitress brought us cookies assuming we had just been given some terrible news. Oh how wrong she was.”
Jeremy Stewart is currently at Centinela State Prison in Imperial County and is eligible for parole in June.
Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.