'3 Strikes' Inmate Calls 130-Year Sentence Unfair : Courts: Longtime burglar says he's paying too high a price. Prosecutor says the needs of society are being well-served.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Angel Martinez, who last week was given one of the harshest sentences allowed under the "three strikes" law, appeared calm and collected behind the heavy glass that separates visitors from inmates at the Orange County Jail.

Martinez, convicted most recently of burglary, was given 130 years in prison--a sentence he said is too high a price to pay for the crimes he freely admits committing.

But the prosecutor in the case said Martinez deserved the sentence because he victimized too many people as a career criminal.

"I think this is unfair because there are people who have done much worse than me, like those who kill people," Martinez said during an interview at the jail Friday, a week after his sentencing.

"Is it fair? I don't think so. I admit my crimes. I did the burglaries," said Martinez, 34, in Spanish.

Martinez, an unemployed welder committed many residential burglaries. By his count, at least a burglary a week, although the prosecutor believes it was more like 100 a year.

He stole, he said, because he needed money to satisfy a daily craving for heroin.

Martinez grew up on the rough side of Puebla, Mexico, and then the barrios of Anaheim.

He said he fell into a cycle in which he would get high, come down, pull a burglary, sell the goods, buy heroin for $50, get high again and start over again. The cycle, he said, took over his life.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lett, who prosecuted Martinez, warned that people should not feel sorry for Martinez, who also has been deported four times.

"You couldn't find a better candidate for this law," Lett said. "And, the judge followed the law for the three strikes provisions."

Martinez was convicted of committing seven residential burglaries in 1989 that resulted in a six-year prison term and a "two strikes" mark on his criminal record because of the multiple convictions, Lett said.

In addition, Martinez was deported by immigration authorities twice in 1987, once in 1988, and again in 1993, Lett said. Martinez came to California in 1979 and took a number of low-paying jobs. He later learned to weld and worked for an Orange County trucking company.

Lett said he believes Martinez, who described himself as a "small-time" burglar, supported his drug habit and lived off the stolen items.

"I don't think it was just for narcotics," Lett said. "I think he made a living doing burglaries."

The "three strikes" legislation was signed by Gov. Pete Wilson last March and was overwhelmingly endorsed by California voters when a similar law appeared on the November ballot.

Although critics contend the law is overly broad and will cost taxpayers millions in prison costs, Lett said those costs are justified because Martinez cost his victims thousands of dollars.

"The victims lost from $1,200 to $1,500 (each)," Lett said. "And you multiply that by 100 or so burglaries that he can commit in a year, and that's a cost to society as a whole. Plus, you have to take in the costs of the cycle of a guy like this, which is capture, then a trial, then capture and another trial, and so on. And, there are trial costs Martinez would have imposed on taxpayers too."

Martinez, whose full name is Angel Martinez Limon, seems quiet.

His arms and hands are filled with tattoos, and he has assumed that prison look, which belies little or no emotion.

His hair is cropped short. He has a thin mustache that hangs around the edges of his mouth. His eyes are cold and he showed some emotion only when the subject turned to the fact that he may die in prison.

"I'm in a different situation," Martinez said. "I have this drug problem . . . many times I didn't know what I was doing. It's like being a drunk. You only think of your next drink. You really don't know what you're doing."

He said his only hope of changing his future lies in the hands of an appeal by the public defender's office.

Martinez, who never married, is the son of a Puebla factory worker who had seven children. His father has died and his 60-year-old mother, Trinidad Limon Valdez, still lives in Puebla. "While I was there (in Puebla), there was just no future for me. In school there was nothing for me," said Martinez, who dropped out after finishing fourth grade. "I know that I can die in prison, (but) I haven't told my family in Puebla yet . . . it's too sad to share."

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