LAPD Officer Kristina Ripatti was shot a week ago by a robbery suspect named James Fenton McNeal, 52. The L.A. Times reports today that she is paralyzed from the chest down, and doctors say she is unlikely to walk again.
Ripatti is a 10-year veteran of the LAPD and the mother of a 15-month-old girl. Peers call her one of the Southwest Division’s highest-performing officers, admired by colleagues for her acumen, drive and superb physical fitness. Tall and lithe, Ripatti is married to another member of the department, Southeast Division gang officer Tim Pearce.
And if you want to know why our sentencing laws are better today than they were in the 1970s, you need only look at the criminal history of her assailant, as revealed in the Times story today:
McNeal had a 33-page rap sheet that includes a conviction for a second-degree murder in 1973 and a robbery in Inglewood five years later, followed by other prison sentences and robberies, [LAPD spokeman Lt. Paul] Vernon said.
Read that again.
A conviction for murder — and a robbery five years later.
That’s what it was like in the ’70s, folks. People would commit murders, get convicted, and walk out of prison, all in less time than I had braces on my teeth.
And some of these folks are still walking the streets today. Yeah, maybe they’re in their 50s — but as McNeal’s example illustrates, some of them are still quite dangerous.
By the way, from an earlier story on McNeal and the shooting, we learn this:
A Police Department spokesman said McNeal most recently was released from the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo on Aug. 18, 2002, after serving nine years for attempted robbery.
The paper doesn’t say whether he served nine actual years, or instead served a nine-year sentence, which means less than nine years’ real time. If he served nine actual years, that means he would have been sentenced in 1993.
That’s a year before the Three Strikes law was passed.
If McNeal had been sentenced on his attempted robbery case after the Three Strikes law passed, he would have been eligible for a 25-to-life sentence. With murder and robbery on his record from the 1970s (both strikes), an attempted robbery would have subjected him to a 25-to-life sentence. (Incidentally, this would still be the case even if the pending proposition to reform Three Strikes were to pass.)
Bottom line: if we’d had the Three Strikes law a year or two earlier, Kristina Ripatti might not have been shot. She’d still be able to run around with her 15-month-old daughter.
Something to keep in mind when you discuss the merits of the Three Strikes law.
P.S. I’m hoping to help collect donations for Ripatti and her family in the upcoming week. Stay tuned for details.