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Cowlitz County's first 'three strikes' offender to be freed from prison

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More than 20 years ago, Tracy Lynn Hoggatt began a life sentence for breaking into a house in Silver Lake and stealing 27 guns.

He was Cowlitz County’s first offender to be sentenced under Washington’s 1993 voter-approved “three strikes, you’re out” law, which mandates life sentences without parole for criminals who commit three major felonies.

On Aug. 1, though, he’ll walk free.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Jan 16, 2017, commuted Hoggatt’s sentence, finding that Hoggatt, now 58, had “taken steps to turn his life around and developed a strong sense of empathy.”

Governor-issued commutations are the only way “three strikes” sentences can be dismissed. Roughly 434 prisoners have been sentenced to life without parole under the three strikes law. Of those, roughly 81 have been commuted, according to several state sources.

Under Inslee’s order, Hoggatt must spend six months at a work-release program from February through July. After he is released Aug. 1, he will be on probation for 18 months, during which he will be subject to regular meetings with a probation officer and be barred from possessing firearms.

Hoggatt has been serving his work-release obligations in a Bellingham-area corrections facility, which declined to say what specific type of work he has been doing.

He was arrested September 1995 for first-degree burglary in a firearms heist at a Silver Lake home. It was his third felony strike, and former Superior Court Judge Don McCulloch handed him his life sentence. Hoggatt was 37.

Hoggatt’s previous crimes were a convenience store robbery in 1979 (strike one) and a second-degree assault in which he threatened a woman with a knife in 1988 (strike two).

Since those crimes were “serious offenses,” the first-degree burglary conviction triggered an automatic life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Representing himself, Hoggatt appealed the sentence in 2004 on grounds that a part of the three-strikes rule was unconstitutional. A state appeals court rejected the attempt in August 2004.

Hoggatt wrote a request for clemency in 2015 in which he describes how he became sober, earned his GED, and became a born-again Christian since he was imprisoned.

His goals, when released from prison, included “take every opportunity to volunteer ... help others not to make the same mistakes that I made ... stay drug free ... stay God centered ... (and) build relationships back with my family,” according to this request.

Twenty years and two days after Hoggatt was sentenced to spend his life behind bars, Inslee issued his conditional commutation.

According to testimony Inslee heard, if Hoggatt were to be re-sentenced without the three strikes rule in effect, he would likely receive a sentence of less than 10 years.

Inslee wrote in the letter that neither Cowlitz Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Jurvakainen nor the victims of Hoggatt’s burglary had expressed opposition to his petition for clemency.

Even during his 1997 sentencing, McCulloch and prosecuting attorney Lisa Tabbut were surprised and dismayed by Hoggatt’s mandatory life sentence.

“The problem with `three strikes, you’re out’ (is that) it can be used in such a way that a nonviolent offense is a triggering factor,” McCulloch remarked in 1997 upon passing sentence. He said the three-strikes initiative and case law left him no choice but to impose the sentence.

Tabbut said Hogatt’s wasn’t an ideal case for the three strikes law, which was directed toward violent, career criminals. However, the system “couldn’t treat this first-degree burglary differently … simply because of the nature of the penalty,” she said during the 1997 case.

Hoggatt could not immediately be reached for comment for this story, but in his clemency petition, he said he wanted an opportunity to be released and become a law-abiding citizen.

“I will not let any one of you in the community down,” Hoggatt wrote. “I will demonstrate my ability to be a law-abiding, successful, responsible, trustworthy, and resourceful citizen. The possibilities are endless if we trust in God.”

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