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Charley Charles may have been hounded for his past crimes. But San Francisco Superior Court jurors didn’t empathize with the notorious felon’s plight enough to excuse him for keeping a gun and fanny pack full of bullets in his apartment. On Tuesday, a jury found Charles, who did time in the 1980s after he set his son on fire, guilty of possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon. Now the prosecution and defense are battling over how long the 64-year-old Charles, formerly named Charles Rothenberg, should spend in prison, with the district attorney seeking 25 years to life under California’s Three Strikes law. Charges for a felon possessing a gun aren’t typically high profile. District Attorney Kamala Harris’ office, as well as that of her predecessor, have rarely sought 25-to-life under Three Strikes when the alleged third strike isn’t defined as a serious or violent crime. But the Charles case got considerable attention from the DA’s office Tuesday. The DA, her chief assistant, the head of her criminal division and the head of her homicide division were all in the courtroom. While Deputy Public Defender Gabriel Bassan declined to comment after the verdict, Harris told a crowd of reporters that Charles is “probably one of the most dangerous criminals that this country has ever seen.” Assistant District Attorney Cheryl Matthews has asked the court to pin two prior strikes to 1983, when Charles pleaded guilty to attempted murder and arson causing great bodily injury for setting his son on fire. Outside the presence of the jury, Bassan asked for permission to combat that argument before the jury. He had hoped to make the case that the convictions shouldn’t count as two strikes since they arose from the same incident. “It is really a factual matter: Is this the same conduct?” he argued. Judge Cynthia Lee disagreed, saying that it’s up to a judge to make such determinations. But first the prosecution had to prove the two convictions “true.” Bassan struggled to convey — without mentioning the Three Strikes law — the consequences of the jury finding that Charles had two past convictions. When Matthews submitted documents to show that Charles had been convicted of the two crimes in 1983, Bassan offered no evidence of his own. But he beseeched jurors to think independently and not be rubber stamps. “No one can ever tell you what the facts are in a case,” he said, over a prosecution objection that was overruled. “If it’s your determination that there are two felony priors,” or one, or none, “so be it,” he told the jury, raising his voice and clapping on certain words for emphasis. “No one can question you on that.” Matthews countered by telling jurors that Bassan had presented no evidence to contradict the priors and that Charles had admitted them from the stand. But Judge Lee sustained Bassan’s objection when Matthews reminded jurors, “He himself burned his son.” During the first phase of the trial, it was Bassan who reminded jurors of Charles’ past notoriety. He tied his client’s defense to the 1983 incident, saying in opening statements that Charles had become “infamous” for mutilating his child and felt his life was in danger. Bassan asserted that Charles needed a gun because he had been attacked in prison years ago and was later taunted and shot at on a downtown San Francisco street. By the end of the day Tuesday, jurors had found Charles’ two prior convictions true. Lee will have some discretion when it comes to sentencing. If the judge decides the two prior convictions should count as only one strike, as Bassan has argued, Charles would face about eight years in state prison, or twice the normal sentence, Matthews said. The judge is expected to set a date for sentencing later this week. Matthews said she wasn’t sure if her office would press ahead with seven other fraud-related charges also pending against Charles. Her office has accused Charles of setting a fire outside a neighbor’s apartment door, but a grand jury declined to indict him for that.

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