How Jaycee Lee Dugard's Tormentor Got Out
Of all the mysteries surrounding the horrific case of Jaycee Lee Dugard, the California woman kidnaped as an 11-year-old in 1991 and held as a sexual slave for the last 18 years, none is more baffling -- or, to many, infuriating -- than this: How did her alleged tormentor, Phillip Garrido, get out of prison in 1988, after only about 11 years of a 50-year federal sentence for a previous abduction?
The answer is in some ways as chilling as the question. Basically, there was no corruption; no major bureaucratic malfunction. The federal parole authorities who let him go were following standard procedure of the time. In fact, according to officials with whom I spoke, Garrido’s 11-year stretch for a 1976 kidnaping and rape was relatively harsh in those days.
Thirty-three years ago, the law specifically provided that no prisoner could serve more than 10 years in the federal system without at least a chance at parole -- regardless of his original sentence. Garrido’s conviction, which came in Feb., 1977, was his first. The judge who sentenced him to 50 years may have been trying to signal parole officials who would later look at his case that this was no ordinary novice offender.
Indeed: on Nov. 22, 1976, Garrido seized 25-year-old Kathleen Hall in California, stole her car, tied her up and drove her to a rented storage unit in Nevada that he had prepared with lights, pornographic movies and a bed. He raped her there for several hours -- until, luckily, a police officer happened by.
But ten years later, when an examiner from the U.S. Parole Commission arrived to see Garrido at the federal prison in Lompoc, California, those ghastly events were known to him only from the cold paper record. Though Garrido’s parole proceeding is sealed, typically federal parole examiners would spend about an hour interviewing the inmate. They would also look into a prisoner’s adjustment to prison life, as reported by prison officials, his work record, if any, and evidence of new-found responsibility. Perhaps one point in Garrido’s favor was his marriage-by-mail to Nancy Bocanegra, whom he met while she was visiting a relative serving time with Garrido.
Obviously, the possibility that Garrido might offend again was crucial. To measure it, the parole examiner relied on a questionnaire which produced a Salient Factor Score (SFS). The SFS is an “empirically tested risk prediction instrument,” designed by the commission’s staff to calculate the likelihood that prisoners would revert to crime if released, according to Tom Hutchinson, the commission’s current chief of staff. The SFS, which is still in use, has an excellent forecasting record, Hutchinson says.
In hindsight, though, it clearly wasn’t created for a man like Phillip Garrido. The SFS focuses largely on the prisoner’s age (the older, the less likely to reoffend) and past behavior, as demonstrated by prior convictions. Since Garrido was in his late 30s and had no prior offenses, his SFS score would have been promising: nine points out of a possible 11.
Off his file went to Washington, where members of the parole commission concluded that he had done the right amount of time. None had a chance to look into Garrido’s face, which Leland Lutfy, the former assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case, will never forget. “His eyes were dead,” Lutfy recalls. “It was clear in my mind he would do it again. He had no remorse. He was scary.” But Lutfy did not weigh in on the parole decision. Neither Lutfy nor Garrido’s victim received any notice of his parole eligibility; that, too, was normal at the time.
Early in 1988, the U.S. government released Garrido into the custody of Nevada, where he faced a concurrent life sentence for the same crime. Nevada’s parole board had previously denied Garrido’s requests for a reduced sentence, according to Mike Malloy, the Reno prosecutor who handled the case. (In addition, Malloy says, both he and the state judge were under the impression -- wrong, as it turns out -- that Garrido would not be eligible for federal parole for at least 30 years.) But, once the feds had signed off on Garrido’s release from their system, Nevada officials followed their lead, granting Garrido parole after about seven months. By August 1988, he was back on the street.
Could the same thing happen today? Not quite. Congress has abolished federal parole and given much of the power that judges and the parole commission wielded to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets Federal Sentencing Guidelines. According to the 2008 edition of those guidelines, Phillip Garrido would face between 19 and a half and 24 and a half years if he were tried and convicted for his crime against Kathleen Hall today. With a 15 percent reduction for good behavior, he would still be looking at a minimum of 16 and a half years.
In other words, if today’s rules had been in force on the morning of June 10, 1991, as Jaycee Lee Dugard scurried off to catch the school bus in South Lake Tahoe, California, Phillip Garrido might well have been safely behind bars.
Created in 1987 with the twin goals of greater uniformity -- and greater truth -- in sentencing, the arcane guidelines have their share of critics, from those who say they overly penalize minor drug offenders to those who say they are still not harsh enough. This is one case, though, in which they represent an improvement over the old way of doing business.
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