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Yogurt bomb threat brings third strike for 66-year-old

A man who said he had a bomb during a robbery will now likely die behind bars.

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By Diana Hefley and Jackson Holtz
Herald Writers
EVERETT -- James Monroe Thorne has spent most of his 66 years in and out of prison and mental health hospitals.
He hears voices when he doesn't take his medication. He also commits robberies.
Thorne likely will die behind bars.
A Snohomish County jury on Wednesday convicted Thorne of robbing an Everett check-cashing business in 2006. Jurors were told that Thorne warned employees he had a bomb in the brown paper bag under his arm.
The bomb turned out to be a hoax. The bag held Thorne's lunch -- a four-pack of Dannon light strawberry yogurt.
The first-degree robbery and attempted robbery convictions are Thorne's third strike.
He expects to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole under the state's persistent-offender law.
"There is no discretion. There is one sentence and one sentence only," Thorne's attorney Gabriel Rothstein said Wednesday.
The three-strike law was passed by voters in 1993 and has drawn debate since.
Proponents say the law protects the public from violent criminals who are hell-bent on a life of crime.
Opponents are concerned the law is expensive and inflexible, ignoring the notion that people, especially older inmates, can change and may no longer be a threat to the community.
When the three-strikes law was written it was targeted at two types of bad guys: violent thugs and career criminals, said John Carlson, a co-author of the law and now a radio talk show host.
The law has been an effective deterrent, he said.
When the law passed, opponents predicted as many as 100 people a year would qualify. In reality, the number has been closer to 20 three-strikers each year, Carlson said.
"The reason for that is that there are many felons out there with one or two strikes who don't want to commit the third strike. It's not worth it," he said.
He said the law isn't inflexible. The governor has the authority to grant clemency to three-strikers who either redeem themselves or are so old they no longer pose a threat.
He pointed to the recent request by King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg to free a man who received an automatic life sentence for a purse snatching.
Others point out that convict would be the first third-striker granted clemency.
John Strait, a criminal law professor at Seattle University Law School, said the law has created a cadre of aging prisoners who don't pose a risk to the community. Some of the men are in poor health and are costing taxpayers up to $150,000 annually.
"They're basically falling apart and require a lot of medical care," Strait said.
Recidivism among men over 50 is extremely low, he said. That means the three-strike law isn't necessary.
"They're safer when they're released than the rest of the people walking around," he said.
Other states with three-strike laws have made changes.
In California, judges have the ability to downgrade certain low-level crimes and remove them from three-strike consideration, said Jeff Ellis, a Seattle lawyer and member of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Lea Zengage is a spokeswoman for Justice Works, a Seattle group trying to have second-degree robbery removed from the crimes considered a third-strike offense.
"If you do that three times, you get the same sentence as the Green River killer," she said.
Rothstein said Thorne's yogurt robbery illustrates what he sees as a major flaw. The judge who sentences Thorne has no discretion to consider mitigating factors that may set Thorne apart from other repeat offenders.
"It doesn't give the judge the chance to take into account his age or his long, long mental health history," Rothstein said.
Thorne has been diagnosed with schizophrenia during his numerous stays at state mental health hospitals and prisons. He has reported hearing voices for years. His symptoms are controlled by medication, according to court documents.
The three strikes law did not deter him from committing more crimes when he was free.
Thorne actually was sentenced under the three-strikes law once before. He had been convicted of two counts of second-degree robbery in 1980 and a separate first-degree robbery in 1988.
He earned a three-strikes sentence in 1994. About seven months after he'd been released from prison, he held up the gift shop at Stevens Hospital with a BB gun. He forced the cashier out of the gift shop at gunpoint. She eventually broke free and Thorne was arrested. He was convicted of robbery and kidnapping and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
The conviction was upheld by the state Supreme Court but was eventually vacated after Thorne alleged his former attorney erred in not exploring an insanity defense.
He was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge and sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
Thorne had been out of prison for just a few months in 2006 when he walked into the Dollarwise store in Everett on Rucker Avenue.
He told a mental health evaluator he'd stopped taking his medication for about five days before the 2006 robbery. He'd restarted the medication but felt "drawn" to the store, according to court documents. The evaluator found Thorne competent to stand trial.
Both sides attempted to negotiate a plea agreement, but Thorne declined.
Jurors were shown a video recording of the robbery.
"The women who were there didn't know he didn't have a bomb," Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Helene Blume said. "The women were very frightened, especially when he grabbed one by the arm."
Thorne ran out of the store with about $2,000 and hid in some nearby bushes. A police dog tracked him down. The nearby Everett Clinic was evacuated as bomb technicians detonated what they believed was bomb, but actually was yogurt.
The jury began deliberating late Tuesday afternoon and reached a decision early Wednesday.
Thorne is expected to be sentenced in March, despite his request on Wednesday to be sent to prison immediately.
"I don't want to wait any longer. I'm not appealing anything. I'm not going to live that long," Thorne said. "I have no faith in the justice system."
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463,
Story tags » EverettCrimePolicePrisonLaws

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