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The California Supreme Court in San Francisco today unanimously upheld a “three-strikes” sentence of 25 years to life in prison for a Yolo County man who planted a fake bomb at a county dispatch center. Barry Turnage, 66, left a box labeled “C-4” outside the Yolo County Communications Center in Woodland on Sept. 3, 2006. The 24-hour center is used for firefighter, police and ambulance dispatches. A worker at the center, recognizing that C-4 is a type of explosive, called police, who later found that the box contained a mixture of bleach and oil inside a plastic bag.
Turnage claimed the incident was a harmless prank he carried out because he believed some women at the center had disrespected him. He also unsuccessfully argued he was insane at the time of the incident, but a Yolo County jury rejected that claim and convicted him of a felony of placing a false bomb with intent to cause fear. Turnage was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison under the state’s three-strikes law, which requires that penalty for anyone convicted of two serious felonies and a third felony of any kind. His previous convictions were for shooting a rifle into an occupied fire truck in Berkeley in 1978 and committing an armed robbery in Yolo County in 1986.
In his appeal, he argued that the false-bomb felony law is unfair because a separate California law allows the planting of a fake weapon of mass destruction to be considered either a misdemeanor or felony. The WMD law requires proof that the incident actually caused fear in order to be classed as felony. If Turnage had been convicted of a misdemeanor, his sentence would have been no more than one year in jail. But the state high court said the distinction between the two laws is rational because false bombs are easily recognizable and thus almost certain to cause fear.
Justice Marvin Baxter wrote, “The Legislature could reasonably assume that the public is highly familiar with, and uniquely afraid of, the explosive properties of bombs. “Hence, mere observation or awareness of an object that looks like a bomb, and that was meant to instill fear like a bomb, is almost certain to cause the alarm and disorder associated with sustained fear under the statutory scheme,” Baxter wrote for the court. In addition to the 25 years to life, Turnage received an additional five years in prison for violating his probation on a 2004 cocaine conviction.
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