By the time Jermaine Burgess could buy his first legal beer, he had already committed a series of burglaries, admitted to an assault and stabbed a man in the eye while trying to break into a truck.

Today, the self-described "lawless hoodlum," whose life of crime started at age 11 and could end with a lethal injection, is the poster child for sentencing and parole reform in Pennsylvania.

When not behind bars, Burgess, 37, was racking up convictions for robbery, aggravated assault and firearms offenses. He repeatedly violated his parole after serving the minimum sentences.

Paroled again last year, Burgess went berserk, police say. He allegedly murdered Marie Ott, an 81-year-old handicapped widow, two weeks later killed a South Vietnamese Army veteran and raped his wife, then carjacked a Philadelphia woman at knifepoint the following month.

Ott's son, Joseph Elia, said that it's too easy for criminals such as Burgess to receive parole.

"I don't understand how they say, 'You were good for the last two years, so now we're going to parole you out.' That's totally ridiculous," said Elia, who will testify tomorrow at a state House Judiciary Committee hearing in Northeast Philadelphia on repeat violent offenders.

Lawmakers are preparing to introduce a bill to crack down on Pennsylvania's most violent criminals. The legislation was prompted in part by Gov. Rendell's outrage following Burgess' arrest.

"It's just targeting those that are the serious, violent offenders," said state Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, the committee chairman. "Get them the heck off the street so they don't go out and kill more cops and innocent people."

State Rep. Bryan Lentz is proposing that ultra-violent criminals - perhaps only a few hundred statewide - be required to register under Megan's Law so residents can find out where they're living. Rendell wants judges to sentence such offenders to fixed terms, rather than ranges.

Burgess is facing the death penalty for the Delaware County murders, but is already looking at a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for the carjacking because it would be his third violent crime as an adult.

But William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, an inmate advocacy group, said it is difficult to predict how a person will behave in the future. He opposes legislation that would require judges to issue stricter sentences for violent criminals.

"I think we would all like to be able to identify who is likely to commit new crimes. That way we could prevent those crimes from being committed," he said. "The fact of the matter is that it's an impossibility. At best, it's guesswork." *