3-strikes felon sentenced to life in prison is released early, now charged with murder

A convicted felon sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison under Washington state's three-strikes law has been charged with shooting and killing a man earlier this month.

The life sentence of Stonney Marcus Rivers, 50, was commuted by then-Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2013 during her final days in office.

Rivers was released from prison in early 2015.

On Nov. 2, police officers were called to the Golden Kent Motel on 84th Avenue South after gunfire rang out.

Nearby Mill Creek Middle School was locked down as a precaution.

Surveillance images show Rivers leaving the scene, according to Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas.

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"We believe it was Mr. Rivers that pulled the trigger," Thomas told KIRO 7.  "We certainly know, if Mr. Rivers' sentence wasn't commuted, he wouldn't be out of custody and he would not have committed that crime."

David A. Cabrera was found dead in motel room No. 18, according to a police report.  He had been "shot in the face" in front of his girlfriend during what police call a suspected drug deal.

Theneious Fisteral Swafford, 47, has been charged as an accomplice in the case. Investigators believe Swafford, also a convicted felon, drove Rivers to and from the crime scene.

Rivers' lengthy police record includes multiple convictions for robbery, assault and "a propensity for violence that creates a substantial likelihood of danger to the community," according to charging documents filed this week in King County Superior Court.

Rivers' criminal history was used as an example by policymakers drawing up the state's three-strikes law in the 1990s, according to Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center.

"He became one of the first cases in our state that was eligible for 'three strikes, you're out,'" Guppy told KIRO 7 on Tuesday. "He was sentenced to life, so the system worked, and for every day he stayed in jail, the public was safe."

"In this case, he was released and he committed another violent crime," Guppy said.  "It's a stunning failure of a system that was put into place by the voters of our state to protect the public from exactly this kind of person."

KIRO 7 reached out to then-Gov. Gregoire for comment. This is the statement her former chief of staff, Marty Loesch, released:

"King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, the Clemency and Pardons Board and the sentencing judge, Kathleen Learned, recommended the commutation of the sentence of Mr. Stonney Marcus Rivers to me in 2013.  Their recommendations carried great weight with me.  Mr. Rivers had been sentenced to life without possibility of parole soon after the passage of Washington's Persistent Offender Accountability Act, the so-called "Three Strikes Law" for the crime of Robbery 2 and by the time of his release had served twenty years in prison.  Robbery 2 typically results in a sentence of two to three years.  Based on these recommendations and the facts available at the time, to include his performance while in prison, I conditionally commuted Mr. Rivers sentence to his time served subject to compliance with twenty-one different conditions.  The allegations against him suggest that he violated these conditions and should be returned to prison for the rest of his life. My heart goes out to the victim, family and friends."

Satterberg, whose office was contacted late Tuesday for comment, released this statement Wednesday:

I thought your story was unbalanced in that you only talked to the angry Mr. Guppy about the concept of Executive Clemency to correct disproportionate sentences handed out in the early days of the law, roughly from 1994 through the decade.  These were LWOP, slow death penalty sentences, most often for street robbery — unarmed robbery 2.  The men who picked up their 3rd were around 25, then sentenced to die in prison.  Prior to the 3-strikes law, the sentence for the 3rd robbery 2 was 15-20 months.

This extreme sentence was given out to a highly disproportionate percentage of young African-American men, around 80%.

Your story should include interviews with successful men granted Clemency after serving 20 years who are now having a life and contributing to the community, like Stevan Dozier, Gerald Hankerson, Orlando Ames.  We can introduce you to them and others.  Truth is that the recidivism rate for the men who got clemency is less than the men who serve their full sentences.