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'Extreme injustice': Homeless man with untreated schizophrenia fights 150-year sentence

Camellia Burris and Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — The crime that Jared Stephens committed is not in dispute.

The question is whether he should die in prison for it.

On a stormy September day in 2016, Stephens — a former wrestler at Arizona State University who became homeless after years of untreated schizophrenia — walked into a Best Buy in Sweetwater.

He snatched a $399.99 laptop, stuffed other merchandise totaling $157.96 into a brown Publix tote bag and tried to walk out without paying. Confronted by employees, he resisted, then pulled his own laptop out of a backpack and did something extraordinarily irrational.

“Look, I have child pornography!” he declared.

He was telling the truth.


Stephens, then 25, marched in and out of the store with his laptop playing a video of child abuse, tilting his computer screen so it was visible to a surveillance camera, according to an arrest report. He proceeded to lie down between two sets of sliding doors at the store’s entrance, perusing illicit images as shoppers flowed by, until police arrived and hauled him to jail.

That unhinged act sent Stephens on an odyssey through the criminal justice system, resulting in a sentence that has no parallel in local courts for a similar crime: 150 years in state prison — to be followed by a 120-day stint in the Miami-Dade County jail.

The sentence — handed down by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Veronica Diaz in 2018, with a minimum of public explanation — was 147 years longer than the three-year term state prosecutors initially proposed in a plea deal and 129 years longer than the 21-year term the state asked for at sentencing. It was also dozens of times greater than the typical sentence for possession of child pornography.

Now, Stephens' sentence is being reconsidered by a different Miami-Dade judge, William Altfield. It’s Stephens’ last chance at a reduced term, after his lawyers exhausted other avenues of appeal.


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