SAN DIEGO — A prison inmate previously serving an 80-years-to-life sentence for a series of San Diego robberies from the 1990s will soon be a free man after a judge resentenced him Thursday based on recommendations from prison officials.
Edward Victor Shell, 54, was resentenced Thursday to a term of 21 years and four months, the amount of time he has spent behind bars at Folsom State Prison for a series of holdups he committed in 1991 and again in 1997 at area restaurants. He was convicted and received the life sentence due to California’s Three Strikes Law.
Since his incarceration, Shell has received glowing recommendations from prison officials for his conduct and was recommended this year for early release through a letter written by Ralph Diaz, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which runs the state prison system. Recent amendments to state law allow judges to modify sentences based on recommendations from corrections officials.
Attorney Milena Blake, who works with Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project and advocated on Shell’s behalf in court, said his work ethic and reputation as a model prisoner earned him jobs in sensitive areas of the prison unheard of for inmates, including working as the clerk of the captain in charge of prison security.
Blake said that during his 21-year stay, Shell has not committed a single infraction for violating prison rules. In addition, he’s completed several anger management, substance abuse and victim impact programs, is currently earning a college degree and hopes to work as a truck driver upon his release.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael T. Smyth, who oversaw Shell’s resentencing, said that in modifying Shell’s sentence, he considered his conduct behind bars — particularly since his good behavior occurred when he likely had no expectation of ever being released — as well as the lack of violence involved in Shell’s crimes.
Though there were several victims involved in the holdups, Shell was unarmed during the robberies — sometimes pretending that he had a weapon — and did not commit violence upon the victims. Blake said the robberies were motivated by substance abuse and a desire to provide money for his then-girlfriend and her baby.
During the hearing, Shell said “I thought I was doing (the robberies) for the right reasons,” but said that his view has changed with two decades to reflect on his crimes. “I did some bad things at a time in my life that I regret,” Shell said. “I’m not a bad person. But when I did these things, I tried to justify them. But over the years, no matter how I tried, I think it was just wrong, no matter what I was thinking. It was simply wrong to do what I did. That’s what hurts the most, is when you realize that what you did was wrong.”
Shell said his time spent behind bars mulling over his crimes “just made me want to better myself.”
Smyth did express reservations over what he called a lack of a support system for Shell upon release. Shell’s parents are now deceased, and he has not been in contact with his remaining family members for many years.
But Blake said she has seen other inmates in Shell’s position flourish with the proper professional support in anti-recidivist programs.
Shell will be sent back to Northern California before he can be officially released, and will be on one year of supervised release.