A former merchant seaman who was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison for sexually assaulting and hacking off the forearms of a 15-year-old girl will be paroled next April after only eight years, it was announced Wednesday.
Ed Martin, associate warden of California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo, said Lawrence Singleton has reduced his time with good behavior and under a 1983 work-incentive law that will cut a day off his sentence for each day he has spent as a teacher's aide in a prison classroom.
"His release date," Martin said, "if there is continued good behavior and work and no change in his programs, will be approximately April 25."
"A great travesty . . . a miscarriage of justice," fumed the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Singleton, now 59, for the brutal attack on Mary Bell Vincent, a Las Vegas runaway whom the defendant found hitchhiking in San Francisco in September of 1978.
Singleton drove her into rural Stanislaus County, where he raped her, chopped off her arms with an ax and left her for dead under a bridge. He was convicted the following March in a San Diego court, where the trial was held after a change of venue, and sentenced to 14 years and four months in prison.
Wanted Life Term
At the time, San Diego Superior Court Judge Earl Maas said: "If I had the power, I would send him to prison for the rest of his natural life."
Martin said that Singleton, who was transferred to San Luis Obispo three years ago after serving time in prisons at Chino and San Quentin and at Deuel Vocational Institute, has caused no trouble and has not drawn attacks by other prisoners. When Singleton was sentenced, there were reports of threats on his life in at least two institutions.
Stanislaus County Deputy Dist. Atty. Donald Stahl made clear Wednesday his disgust with the state statute that will grant Singleton his freedom.
"Put simply," he said of the law giving work-incentive credit, "it cuts all prison terms in half. It was quietly enacted as an effort to reduce prison overcrowding and in effect cut loose people who shouldn't be cut loose."
He called it the "worst kind of economy" that puts the public at risk and said, "I think the Legislature is responsible for this kind of bad call."
In San Diego, however, defense attorney Robert Grimes said he does not think that Singleton "is ever going to get in serious trouble again." He noted that his former client had never been in significant trouble before and he contended that the attack on Mary Vincent resulted from "an extremely unusual set of circumstances."
He declined to be specific, but said part of it was the fact that Singleton was drunk. The attack, he maintained, "was really a very uncharacteristic thing."
After he was imprisoned, Singleton said he had been drinking 190-proof grain alcohol and could not remember what happened. But he suggested that two male hitchhikers he picked up must have attacked the girl.
In any event, attorney Grimes said Wednesday, penalties for the crimes of which Singleton was convicted have been increased so sharply that if convicted today, he would have been sentenced to much more than 14 years and thus would not be paroled in only eight.
"I would hope people would understand that," he said.
Prosecutor Stahl, however, said he fears that Singleton's release will have a devastating effect on the victim, who at the time of the trial was photographed frequently with metal artificial hands. She is now 23 and reported to be doing well as an arts student at an unspecified location in the Pacific Northwest.
"I heard she's very frightful at the prospect of him being released," Stahl said.
When she was interviewed a year after Singleton's conviction, Mary Vincent said she was still having occasional nightmares about the attack, which occurred on a Friday night.
The nightmares, she said, always came on Fridays. "It's weird," she added.