A 72-year-old man was ordered to live out his life behind bars for trying to buy a 4-year-old boy for $500.
Kenneth Parnell, handcuffed to his wheelchair, was stoic as a judge sentenced him Thursday to 25 years to life for what prosecutors have characterized as his "last hurrah."
Though the boy wasn't real -- he was a fiction created by the woman Parnell approached to fetch him a youngster and the authorities she told of his overture -- a jury convicted Parnell on three felony charges, including attempted child stealing.
The prosecutor who successfully argued Thursday for the stiffest penalty under California's three-strikes sentencing law emphasized that Parnell had a history of abducting and keeping young boys.
"He has been a danger to children his entire life," prosecutor Tim Wellman said.
Parnell already spent five years in prison during the 1980s for twice snatching boys as they walked home from school.
One of the boys, Steven Stayner, spent seven years as Parnell's "son" and was freed only after he helped free a second child Parnell abducted. Stayner's nightmare was told in the TV movie "I Know My First Name is Steven."
Police arrested Parnell in January 2003. A jury convicted him in February after he asked the sister of his former caretaker to deliver a boy to his cluttered Berkeley apartment. In exchange, Parnell offered $500 to Diane Stevens. Aware of Parnell's past, she went to police, who arrested Parnell after he gave Stevens $100 in exchange for the fictitious boy's birth certificate.
Police searching Parnell's apartment found condoms, pornographic videos and sexual aids.
At trial, Wellman suggested that Parnell wanted one "last hurrah."
In the weeks between when Parnell made his offer and police arrested him, Stevens happened to see the TV docudrama about Stayner's ordeal.
"He wanted another Steven Stayner," she said outside court Thursday.
Along with the 1972 kidnapping of Stayner, Parnell had been convicted of kidnapping 5-year-old Timmy White in 1980. Stayner, then 14, later took White to police, saying he didn't want the boy to suffer his same ordeal.
Steven Stayner -- whose brother, Cary, was sentenced to death last year for killing four women near Yosemite National Park -- died in a motorcycle accident in 1989.
Wellman said he spoke this week with Stayner's mother and with White, both of whom pressed him to seek the maximum punishment.
Parnell's lawyer, Deborah Levy, said that her client simply wanted to raise an abandoned boy, and that "he did not at all harm or attempt to harm anyone in this community." She argued that Parnell's age, failing health and the fact that he had had no trouble with police for nearly 20 years should mitigate his sentence.
In leveling the maximum term, however, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Julie Conger called Parnell "a poster child for the three-strikes law."
Outside court, Levy said she would file appeal papers. Parnell will be transferred to San Quentin State Prison in the next two weeks, she said.