Unusual Three Strikes Trial Starts For 'Charley Charles'

San Francisco prosecutors rarely bring "three strikes" cases, but they are doing so here:

A man infamous for setting his son on fire in 1983 later bought a gun to protect himself from potential vigilantes, his attorney said Thursday in a weapon possession case in San Francisco that could lead to a life sentence under the state's "three strikes" law.

"The streets and the Internet chat rooms still buzz with phrases like 'devil incarnate' or 'baby burner'," said the attorney for Charley Charles, 64, who is facing trial in San Francisco Superior Court following his 2001 arrest in the city.

Deputy Public Defender Gabriel Bassan said that the day that Charles set his son aflame launched a media frenzy and fueled public hatred that even years later could have come back to Charles at his 1091 Bush St. apartment.

"He was in danger from people he didn't know and people he had never met," Bassan said in opening statements. "He was universally despised."

Bassan said his client admitted to being a felon in possession of a gun and ammunition but indicated that the danger Charles faced far outweighed the law that he consciously broke.

Prosecutors said earlier in opening statements that Charles himself told investigators he owned a gun.

Officers with a search warrant indeed found a nearly century-old, .38-caliber revolver, fully loaded and kept in a shirt drawer. A total of 49 rounds of ammunition were also discovered.

The public defenders tack is unusual, and it will be interesting to see how it works out. Details here from NBC11.com. More here from the AP via the San Francisco Examiner.