The Waco Tribune-Herald reports
that 43-year-old Willie Smith Ward of Waco, whose rap sheet includes five felony and four misdemeanor convictions, walked into an H-E-B supermarket in September 2011 and tucked a $35 rack of ribs under his shirt. He then threatened a store employee who noticed the bulge under his shirt. That employee testified in court that Ward told him he had a knife.
"Now you just turned a ticket into a serious crime," the employee said he told Ward.
Ward's previous felony convictions are for burglary, attempted robbery, aggravated assault, leaving the scene of an accident and cocaine possession.
Before his trial, Ward rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in a 20-year prison sentence. He will now have to serve at least a quarter of his 50-year sentence before being eligible for parole.
"This verdict shows that the citizens of this county will not tolerate a continued disrespect and disregard for other people and their property," Assistant District Attorney J.R. Vicha said. "People who choose to do so will be dealt with seriously and appropriately."
As severe as Ward's sentence may seem, it is far from the longest given to a habitual offender. In 2010, Darnell Wilson
, a 44-year-old Mississippi man with seven prior felony convictions, was sentenced to three lifetimes in prison without parole after he shoplifted about $500 worth of bras and other clothing and cosmetics from a Southaven Kohl's. Mississippi is one many states with a 'three strikes law' requiring mandatory life imprisonment after a third felony conviction.
It's not just so-called 'career criminals' who end up with shockingly long prison sentences for bloodless crimes-- last year, Quartavious Davis
, a mentally ill Florida teenager with no criminal record, was sentenced to 162 years behind bars for a string of injury-free armed robberies.