A parolee accused of killing 17-year-old Lily Burk last month could have been serving a lengthy prison sentence instead of roaming the streets of Los Angeles but for a clerical error.
Because of the error, authorities did not know that Charles Samuel was eligible to be prosecuted under the state's tough three-strikes law when he was arrested for and convicted of burglary in San Bernardino County in 1997, the Los Angeles Times reported, based on interviews and reviews of court documents.
A San Bernardino County district attorney's official told The Times he believes prosecutors would have filed the burglary charge as a third strike had Samuel's ``rap sheet" properly shown he had previous convictions that counted as two strikes rather than one.
Under the three-strikes law, offenders convicted of a third strike face a minimum prison sentence of 25 years to life.
Court records reviewed by The Times show Samuel pleaded guilty to robbery and residential burglary in 1987 in connection with a home-invasion robbery in San Bernardino.
A law enforcement source told The Times that Samuel's rap sheet lists his robbery conviction but does not describe his burglary conviction as a residential burglary. Under the three-strikes law, non-residential burglaries do not count as strikes.
It is unclear who was responsible for the error, The Times reported.
A second opportunity to prosecute Samuel under the three-strikes law came in 2006, when he was charged with petty theft in Los Angeles. But a district attorney's spokeswoman told The Times that prosecutors also reviewed Samuel's criminal records and believe that at the time his case would not have been charged as a third strike.
Burk was killed July 24. Her body was discovered the next morning in her Volvo in a downtown parking lot. Her head had been beaten and her neck slashed.
Police said footage from surveillance cameras shows Samuel, 50, driving in Burk's car with the high school senior in the passenger seat.