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Louisiana man sentenced to life in wallet theft released

August 17, 2021 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana man sentenced to life without parole for stealing a wallet is free after serving 12 years.

New Orleans prosecutors agreed to dismiss a habitual offender sentencing enhancement against 65-year-old Henry Phillips, and he was released on Monday, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reports.

Phillips was convicted in 2009 of purse-snatching after prosecutors said he swiped a man’s wallet from a McDonald’s counter and then pretended to have a gun when he was confronted. He stole $20 before he was arrested half a block away.

Prosecutors under former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro invoked his two prior robbery convictions to give him a sentence of mandatory life without parole, according to The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams’ office revisited the case as part of a larger project to review old sentences.

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“This case could have been a petty theft charge, but it was sentenced like a murder,” Phillips’ attorney, Colin Reingold, of the Promise of Justice Initiative, said in a statement. “In order to restore any sense of trust in our criminal legal system these cases have to be rooted out and purged.”

In a letter to the court, the victims of the wallet-snatching said the incident did not damage their lives or emotional well-being and they backed Phillips’ release.