Idea for TV Movie of the Week: The Johnny Holly, Jr. Story

Johnny Holly, Jr.

In Alabama, Johnny Holly, Jr. has been freed after serving 30 years of a sentence of life without parole. His crime: he stole a toolbox. His sentence was the result of a three-strikes law.

How did he get free?

He is free today only because the Legislature changed the repeat-offender law early this decade. The change in the law allowed for the possibility of parole. Even so, it took him several years to be resentenced and to get out.

Who helped him ? The prosecutor and a host of prison guards.

The toolbox's owner, who has since died, didn't want to press charges, but was talked into it by a young deputy district attorney who later concluded that he'd made a mistake.

“I was acting as a knee-jerk prosecutor without the benefit of enough experience to know that law cannot be a 'one size fits all' process,” Bruce Maddox, now a lawyer in private practice, wrote in a 2005 affidavit in support of Holley's release.

60 prison guards urged his release, saying he was a changed man.

The cost to Alabama for his incarceration: $400,000.

As one law enforcement official says, if you want a policy where you lock people up forever, “You better get out your wallet.”

As for what Holley's been doing since his release:

Since his release, Holley has gone from church to church to share his testimony and dissuade young people from following the “corrupt” path that did him so much harm. He hopes to find a job using some of the skills learned in prison. Assuming that he meets his parole conditions, a pardon is possible as early as 2011.

If anyone from Hollywood is reading, this would be a great TV movie of the week. It’s far more compelling than the typical serial killer story.