A judge handed down a sentence of 170 years to life Friday to a gang member convicted of premeditated attempted murder of a UC Berkeley student.
Terrence Jarvis, 29, who was convicted in April of attempting to murder campus junior Grant Richman — along with other counts of robbery, attempted robbery and shooting at an inhabited dwelling — received the maximum sentence the judge said the law would allow him to impose.
In December 2011, then-UC Berkeley freshman Richman, who was in the College Area of San Diego to visit a friend, was assaulted with a double-barreled shotgun while placing a tray of cupcakes on the roof of his car. He woke up from a coma about two weeks later, after emergency surgery.
The assault, part of a crime spree prosecutors said Jarvis committed with fellow gang member David White, caved in part of Richman’s skull — which turned out to save his life by allowing his brain to swell without hemorrhaging, according to prosecutor Christopher Lawson.
More than two years after the assault, Jarvis was sentenced to 170 years to life on counts that included the premeditated murder attempt. The sentence was magnified by gang and gun allegations, as well as by additional terms imposed under California’s Three Strikes law, given that Jarvis had been previously imprisoned for a shooting in 2005.
Defense attorney Thomas Palmer argued against the gang allegations — which, along with gun penalties, carry a heftier sentence in California as part of an effort to deter gang violence. He said just because someone is a gang member does not mean a crime is automatically gang-related or deserving of higher penalties. One of Jarvis’ counts — a shooting at the house of a fellow gang member’s grandmother — would not have warranted a life sentence if it were not charged as gang-related, Palmer said.
Lawson, however, said the goal was to make sure Jarvis “couldn’t hurt anyone else ever again,” adding that it was not the gang allegations by themselves but a combination of factors — including the gun, the previous conviction and the severity of the assault against Richman — that produced the scope of Jarvis’ sentence.
“He was just a really bad dude who did really bad things and had a really bad record,” Lawson said.
Peter Richman, Grant Richman’s father, called Jarvis’ actions “excessively violent and out of control” and said he had not forgiven Jarvis for anything.
“Both my wife and I wanted him to go to jail and not come out until he was no longer a threat to anybody, which meant spending the rest of his life in jail,” Peter Richman said, estimating that his son was robbed of about $100. “He committed a number of crimes which, to the sane person, generally make no sense.”
But opponents of long prison sentences — such as Jonathan Simon, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law — argue punishments of the length Jarvis received exact a psychological toll and violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
“A penalty that serves no penological purpose can only be degrading,” Simon said in an email.
Palmer and Simon both challenged the substantial length of the sentence for a felony without a homicide conviction.
“At a certain point, the numbers really don’t matter,” Palmer said. “Once the person’s going to spend the rest of their life in prison, period, the extra numbers are almost meaningless. When you’re getting numbers that are higher than people who go out (and premeditatively) kill children — when you’ve got a higher number than that, you wonder, does that necessarily make sense?”
Judge Jeffrey Fraser said during the sentencing that Jarvis had “no chance” at rehabilitation and that the sentence’s magnitude was necessary, according to CBS News 8.
“I am going to give you every day, every week, every month and every year the law allows me to do, in order to protect society,” Fraser said. “There is absolutely no help.”
For Grant Richman — who was lying in a coma less than three years ago without much expectation of survival — the sentence was not a surprise. But neither was it much of an celebration.
“I’m not getting anything out of it,” Richman said. “I was very just ‘it happened.’ ”
He said recovery was a very gradual process — he got his lowest grade the first semester he returned, just eight months after the beating — but that things have steadily improved.
“It could have been so much worse, but it wasn’t,” Richman said. “No one expected me to live, and now I’m back here.”