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First Life Sentence Under U.S. ‘Three Strikes’ Law

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first defendant sentenced under the federal “three strikes and you’re out” law Monday drew life plus five years in prison for the robbery of a Waterloo, Iowa, food store.

The robbery last Oct. 8--a month after President Clinton signed the mandatory life provision into law--actually marked the fourth violent felony conviction of Thomas Farmer, 43, of Des Moines, according to the U.S. attorney in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“If Farmer had been convicted in state court, he would have been eligible for parole in 2 1/2 years and would probably have served about eight years in prison,” U.S. Atty. Stephen J. Rapp said. “But because of the crime bill, we were able to remove him from society for the rest of his life.”

Sixteen other cases brought under that law were pending at the end of July, said Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman. Sentencing is scheduled next month in three of them--in Kansas, Tennessee and Utah.

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A jury found Farmer guilty May 22 of interference with commerce by robbery, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, using a firearm in a federal crime of violence and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

At the trial, witnesses testified that Farmer and three other men entered the HyVee Food store in Waterloo, and that one was carrying a pistol-grip Mossberg shotgun. When a store employee was unable to open the safe, Farmer reportedly said: “Shoot ‘em, shoot ‘em.” But the men quickly fled when a scanner radio revealed that police were on the way.

The conspiracy count also alleged that Farmer took part in a HyVee Food store robbery in Des Moines last Sept. 11 in which $18,000 in cash and other property were taken.

U.S. District Judge Michael J. Melloy, in sending Farmer to prison for the rest of his life, said the sentence was mandatory because Farmer stood convicted of a “serious violent felony,” and he had been previously convicted of at least two other “serious violent felonies.”

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Melloy said he had to add five years to the sentence because federal law requires that additional time for a person found guilty of using a firearm in a crime of violence.

The judge also sentenced him to 327 months as an “armed career criminal,” and the term is to be served concurrently with the life sentence. Farmer also was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to HyVee in compensation for the Des Moines robbery.

Farmer’s series of violent felonies began with his 1971 conviction of second-degree murder in the killing of Robert J. Stukel, a Bloomfield, Neb., veterinarian. Farmer was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was paroled long before the term ended.

He was then charged and convicted in the 1978 armed robbery of the Rendezvous Lounge in Waterloo. For this crime, he received a sentence of 25 years in prison.

While in prison, Farmer was charged with murdering fellow inmate Allen Lewis on May 18, 1981, and with the murder of inmate Gary Tyson four months later during a prison riot.

Farmer pleaded guilty in 1983 to conspiracy to commit murder in the Lewis case and drew an additional 10-year sentence, which he did not complete before being paroled once more.


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