Skip to comments.Girl's savior faces 3rd strike
Posted on 06/19/2006 7:20:18 PM PDT by Graybeard58
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There is a growing pile of books in Matthew Hahn's cell at Elmwood Correctional complex in Milpitas, Calif. Among Plato dialogues, the Tao Te Ching and "Law for Dummies" is a paperback titled "Martyrs" -- a collection of stories about Christians who sacrificed their lives for their faith.
It was a present from the mother of a young girl, in gratitude for helping bring the girl's molester to justice.
Last year, Hahn, a 26-year-old Los Gatos, Calif., felon with a rap sheet full of residential burglaries, anonymously sent police some stolen photographs -- photos that showed a man molesting a toddler. Using the photographs, police found and arrested John Robertson "Robbie" Aitken. In May, Aitken pleaded no contest to molestation charges and received a 30-year sentence.
But Hahn, who was later arrested for a burglary spree after he turned in the photos, is facing a prison term that could be longer than Aitken's. The latest series of burglaries was Hahn's "third strike," and prosecutors have decided to seek a life sentence. His trial could begin this month.
The conundrum of weighing Hahn's crimes against his good deed has people across the U.S. debating whether he deserves leniency. There have been blog polls, raving CNN hosts, e-mails from Sweden, editorials in Jackson, Miss., radio shows in Canada, and three petition drives calling for leniency.
"Matt is not a career criminal," said Allen Schwartz, Hahn's attorney. "He has a terrible, terrible record. He is a thief and he is a drug addict. All of his previous crimes were from one crime spree. And after he went through the drug rehab, he got caught up again and he is doing it again. What will it take to get this guy's attention? I don't know. But I don't think we should throw this guy on the garbage pile of life."
Assistant District Attorney Dave Tomkins is the senior member of the panel that decides how to charge potential three strikes cases.
He said when the panel made the decision on Hahn's burglary case, it knew about his pivotal role in Aitken's arrest. That, Tomkins said, was one of the reasons he didn't charge Hahn with the specific burglary of the safe that contained the damning photographs.
But they also saw a record of crimes that, while not violent, had the potential to be.
"We see someone with a bunch of residential burglaries and his current case is a bunch of residential burglaries," Tomkins said. "This guy is a career burglar. In my experience, if you take residential burglars off the street, you are cutting the crime rate dramatically.
"But this isn't science. We try to consider everything."
Hahn's supporters say the district attorney's office should be more lenient.
Both the mother of the victim and Aitken's prosecutor Dana Overstreet -- a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County -- have said they would be willing to testify on Hahn's behalf.
Hahn is also receiving help from people he's never met.
Ginger Davis, a 45-year-old Los Gatos woman who said she was molested as a child, started a petition drive, gathered 100 signatures and sent it to Hahn's lawyer.
"He has so many priors," Davis said. "But I'm not sure how they would put someone behind bars for life when you think of that little girl. I think he saved her life."
Hahn himself is conflicted about what punishment he should receive.
"I sit in my cell and think about the fact that I've hurt people with my crimes," Hahn said. "And I've thought about forgiveness. But finally, I am trying to let go of it, that question. It's in God's hands."
Now the former star student at De Anza College reads philosophy and teaches math to inmates at Elmwood. He said he got high fives and handshakes when they found out what he did. But his record only shows a drug-abusing repeat felon.
In fall 1998, Hahn went on a four-month methamphetamine-fueled spree of burglarizing garages, cars and houses in Saratoga, Calif., according to court records.
When he was caught, he pointed out the places he had burglarized. In one instance, he took guns, ammunition and a safe with $20,000 worth of jewelry and cash from his former Little League coach, Keith Barna, who was away on vacation.
After Hahn was arrested, Barna found his rifles stashed in the closet of Hahn's mortified mother, a Stanford-educated tech engineer.
"He's done a lot of reckless things and it's time for him to be spanked pretty badly," Barna said. "But life? I've got a lot of issues with the overcrowding in our jail system for non-violent offenders."
Los Gatos Police Sgt. Mike Barbieri, who was involved in Hahn and Aitken's arrests, sees both sides.
"You gotta give the guy some credit. He got someone off the street who is pretty bad," he said. "But he's also a pretty prolific thief. It's an interesting question: Does he deserve a break? But I don't think so."
The district attorney's office has indicated that Hahn's help in convicting Aitken may be a mitigating factor in his case and has asked his lawyer to submit it for consideration.
In San Mateo County, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he asks lawyers for "mitigation packages" -- documented information of good deeds by suspects facing three strikes. He recalled declining to charge three strikes for a suspect who discovered a fire in a jail cell.
Hahn's case comes when there are renewed efforts in the state to reform the three strikes sentencing law that began 12 years ago. For example, two ballot initiatives from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office aim to give judges more flexibility when giving three strikes sentences in nonviolent, less serious crimes.
Said Franklin E. Zimring, a professor of law at the University of California-Berkeley: "He's not violent, yet not inactive either. The question is how to balance these two. My tendency is to give him a break. If I ran for district attorney and all the people who worry about child sex abuse voted for me and all the people who worry about burglary didn't, I think I would get re-elected."
This will be interesting to follow.
Ah, yeah. I remember this story. Aitken plead no contest? Good, then there is no practical reason to keep Hahn in play.
Hold on, I'll link you to the old thread. I'll ping up some people that were on that thread, while I'm at it.
if there is ever a reason for a "do-over" on the third strike, this is it.
I hope it's a true turning point for him.
one we've talked about....
Criminals have code. You can go to jail for being a thief, a drug dealer, assault and battery, cop killer, etc but do not molest children.
Frankly this guy is a lowlife who steals from other people and cannot seem to get it that it's wrong. I don't see any reason to give him life but ten years is about right.
Just my 1/50 dollar.
Why not put him in "Club Fed" ? That way, when the Enron gang arrives, they'll discover what it feels like to be the one getting robbed.
Full Disclosure: On second thought, that won't work. The Enron folks should go to Leavenworth or share cells in Gitmo.
Throw him in a deep, dark, dank cell.
I'm puzzled by the nonchalant attitude toward residential burglary. Perhaps those who find it no big deal have never suffered one.
In addition, I personally have known of two people who were "just burglars" until one of them came across a resident who was at home during one robbery and killed him and the other killed a child and injured many in a car accident when he fled from the police. Burglary is a serious crime, and this defense attorney's ridiculous statement that this guy is not a career criminal demonstrates once again the idiocy in the judicial system that frustrates voters so much that they vote for three strikes laws. The criminals who commit the small crimes many times become the ones who commit the more serious crimes. Three felonies equals being a career criminal, as far as this voter is concerned.
Why should he receive leniency for reacting in a way that should just be natural. Who in their right mind would not immediately turn over pictures of an adult molesting a child? Are we so jaded that we must reward someone for doing their human duty?
I'm pretty much a hard nose when it comes to criminals; always been for the death penalty when it's clear the person did it, BIG supporter of that Sherrif in Arizona who keeps cons in tents, don't like early parole, etc. But this guy, I don't know. I don't know that it's not a bad idea to give him one break, telling him that this won't be counted as his third strike, and putting him back in rehab one last time, and make it clear to him that if he breaks the law one more time, if he steals so much as a fork from a restaurant, that's strike three and he's done, for life without parole. I can see doing that, considering the fact he's saved many children the life long scars of being molested. I can see doing that.
Only reason I consider that is because he never physically hurt anyone in any of his crimes. That makes a big difference with me in just this one case. If he had ever clocked some old lady on the head or beat up some guy and his kids and then robbed him, I wouldn't be for cutting him a break.
I agree totally with your post. Yeah, have him do some time for theft, get him back into drug rehab, but a life sentence is too harsh...especially when you consider that most molesters end up walking the streets after a few short years in prison looking for fresh victims to terrorize.
This guy didn't have to send the pics to the police, but he knew right from wrong...at least in this situation. If anyone deserves a break, it's this guy. If he blows it again, well, then throw the book at him. It's a sad story. My heart goes out to that toddler. If it were my child, I'd sign the petition to help him out. After that, it would be up to him to get his life together.
I sure understand where you're coming from, but most criminals don't posess that kind of decency or moral compass that most of us do. So it was pretty unusual for him to send those pictures to the police I think. I would imagine most criminals wouldn't care. I don't know it's a tough scenario. The only reason I'd even consider leniency on his third strike is because he never harmed anyone in any of the thefts he committed. I don't know. I can maybe see cutting him a break for this one time, but then sending him to rehab and having him on probation for a few years, and if he breaks any law again, even just one, it's curtains for him, life without parole. When someone like that that is a career criminal, finally does something right, rewarding that can turn someone around. It does work sometimes.
It would be nice to see 20 years from now that maybe he really got a hold of this in his head and turned his life around and started a family, got a job, and was a productive member of society finally, a good example to the rest of the criminals. Longshot I know, but sometimes longshots pay off. Rare, but sometimes. I guess I'm having an uncharacteristic optomist moment here. The fact he did a big thing that helped that little girl and other kids that would have been abused just makes a difference with me.
I feel conflicted though because this is the first time I've ever felt led to suggest leniency for a definite criminal that did do the crime. But I keep thinking of that girl that would STILL be being molested if not for him, and beyond that, there WOULD BE OTHER KIDS that that scum bag would molest after or during that little girl. Might be others that he was molesting at the same time that weren't pictured with the pictures of that girl. And statistically, there were likely others before that girl. Certainly would be more after her IF he hadn't been caught thanks to Hahn. That just makes a BIG difference in my mind. This is the only time I've ever felt a slap on the wrist was appropriate, but woe be to him if he blows this chance after being cut a BIG BREAK, and I was the Judge or DA. ;|