On this page, I explain how the movement to end life without parole (LWOP) for juvenile offenders mistreats and harms victims of juvenile criminals, including the surviving family members of people who were murdered by juveniles. Activists involved in the movement to end juvenile LWOP (JLWOP) hurt victims in three main ways: they advocate for grossly lenient sentences for juvenile criminals, therefore denying justice and forcing surviving victims to relive the crimes at parole hearings and other types of hearings; they refuse to inform us of legislative changes that could impact us, thus denying us the ability to prepare victims; and they use blatant propaganda that minimizes juvenile crimes.
Though the Supreme Court has restricted the use of JLWOP, it has not banned it. Juvenile LWOP remains legal and constitutional for juvenile murderers. And some murders committed by juveniles do, in fact, warrant LWOP. Despite the minimization of juvenile crimes that anti-JLWOP advocates engage in, the truth is this–some juveniles commit unspeakably horrific and evil crimes with a complete understanding of the consequences of those crimes. Some of these heinous juvenile murderers receive LWOP. Most of these “juvenile lifers” were 16 or 17 when they committed their crimes. The youngest were 14.
The movement to end juvenile LWOP for vicious juveniles took off after the Supreme Court abolished the juvenile death penalty in 2005. The movement is powerful and well-funded. For the most part, this movement disregards the victims of the offenders they are trying to free. This mistreatment of victims mainly comes from the higher-ups and leaders in the movement to end juvenile LWOP and even some politicians. I understand that not all people who oppose juvenile LWOP hurt victims. But from what I have seen, many if not most of the more powerful members do disregard victims. I am only criticizing the opponents of juvenile LWOP who act with cruelty towards victims.
In part 2, I explain how the anti-JLWOP movement promotes policies that both harm victims and deny justice. The policy goals of anti-JLWOP advocates are directly antithetical to the desires of many murder victims’ families. Whereas juvenile offender advocates aim to make all juvenile criminals eligible for parole, murder victims’ families often oppose the release of their loved ones’ killers. From my experience, victims who oppose release believe that it is unfair for the killers to enjoy the freedoms they robbed from the person they murdered. Victims want justice. For this desire to be met perpetrators must be given punishments that are proportionate to the crimes. Many juvenile offender supporters, however, advocate for grossly lenient sentences that allow for parole after 10 or 15 years and deny justice. They also have advocated for banning the practice of trying juveniles in adult court, thereby guaranteeing the release of offenders once the juvenile court loses jurisdiction over them. Juvenile courts only have jurisdiction over defendants until they reach a designated age, usually somewhere between 18 and 25. Not only do these lenient sentences deny justice, they also demean the severity of the crimes and devalue the victims.
Because most murder victims’ families are opposed to their loved ones’ killers being released, they choose to do whatever they can to prevent it. This means speaking up at parole hearings and other hearings in the criminal justice system. This forces victims to relive the crimes. Conditions they suffer from as a result of the crimes, such as PTSD, flare up, and they endure nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms. Additionally, many victims reasonably fear the possibility that the offender will retaliate or harm them if released. Policies promoted and enacted by juvenile murderer advocates force victims to endure the devastating parole process. Many of the laws and potential laws juvenile offender advocates have promoted make juvenile criminals entitled to parole hearings every one, two, or three years. So not only do juvenile offender advocates’ policies force victims to relive the crimes, they force them to frequently relive those crimes. Additionally, juvenile murderer advocates promote retroactive laws, forcing victims to endure surprise hearings they were not prepared for. Trauma is worse when it is in a shock. And retroactive sentencing changes shock victims, thus increasing the traumatic impact. And finally, when the offender advocates get what they really want, the offenders’ release, victims are left extremely saddened, scared, and traumatized.
Part 3 explains how powerful juvenile murderer advocates deliberately keep victims in the dark and denied requests to help us. NOVJM asked leaders from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY), both of which are powerful and well-funded organizations that oppose JLWOP, to tell us what states they were filing retroactive legislation in so that we could prepare victims for sentencing changes that would impact them. They both refused, saying that we were opponents. Both organizations also declined requests to give some of their vast amounts of money to victim support services.
Finally, in part 4 I explain how juvenile offender advocates use appalling propaganda to promote their cause of freeing violent juveniles. They demean and minimize serious crimes such as rape and murder by portraying them as simply being immature mistakes and errors in judgment. They use manipulative buzzwords like “justice-involved youth.” They refer to the criminals they are trying to free, most of whom were 16 or 17 when they committed their crimes, as “children.” This paints a mental image of much younger, much more innocent, and much more vulnerable elementary school-aged children or preteens, an image that is the antithesis of reality. In their published works, juvenile murderer advocates have used photographs of children as young as six to represent the 14-17-year-old murderers they are trying to free. And finally, they are dishonest in regard to specific criminal cases. They often use manipulative language to minimize them. Sometimes, they outright lie about them.
By mistreating victims, many offender advocates show that they have little to no concern for victims. By writing this article, I hope to expose the appalling way many anti-JLWOP advocates treat victims. I also hope to give victims the voice they deserve and the voice the world needs to hear.
How the Movement to Free Teen Killers Hurts Victims
Part 1. Introduction
There is a powerful and well-funded movement to end life without parole (LWOP) for juvenile criminals, even those responsible for horrific crimes. The movement to end juvenile LWOP (JLWOP) hurts victims by advocating against justice, forcing victims to endure traumatic parole hearings and other types of hearings, refusing to communicate with us, and using deeply offensive propaganda to minimize the types of juvenile crimes that result in long and life sentences. Though not all anti-JLWOP advocates act in this manner, many do. Those who do act with this level of disregard for victims are those with the most power. And these advocates of juvenile criminals must be exposed.
Background of the Movement to Free Teen Killers
In 2005, the Supreme Court abolished the juvenile death penalty in Roper v. Simmons. The Court reasoned that juveniles are categorically less culpable due to the “hallmark traits of youth”: impulsivity, immaturity, failure to appreciate risks and consequences, recklessness, and riskiness. It should be noted that the offender in this case, Christopher Simmons, displayed none of these “hallmark traits of youth.” He decided he “wanted to murder someone.” He then devised and carried out a plan to commit a murder. He and a younger accomplice he had solicited invaded Shirley Crook’s home, tied her up, and drove her to a state park. They then threw the bound woman into a river and drowned her. This planned-out thrill killing involved none of the hallmarks of youth, whatsoever.
This began a series of Supreme Court decisions regarding the sentencing of juvenile offenders. In Graham v. Florida, SCOTUS banned LWOP for juveniles who committed non-homicides. In Miller v. Alabama, the Court banned mandatory LWOP for juveniles and ruled that a sentencing authority must consider youth and mitigating factors before imposing LWOP on a juvenile killer. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, SCOTUS made Miller retroactive. In Jones v. Mississippi, SCOTUS ruled that Miller and Montgomery do not require a sentencing authority to make a separate factual finding of permanent incorrigibility before sentencing a juvenile killer to life without parole.
Though the Supreme Court has made it more difficult to impose severe penalties on violent juveniles it has never held that juvenile LWOP is always unconstitutional. As long as the sentencing authority considers mitigating factors and youth, LWOP remains a constitutional sentence for a juvenile murderer.
Juvenile murderers are rarely given LWOP. There are only around 1,300 offenders serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles around the entire country. According to our research, about half of these “juvenile lifers” were 17 when they committed the murders. About 35-40% were 16 and the rest were 14 or 15. Most juveniles who have earned LWOP sentences have committed murders that involved aggravating factors. On our website, we profile hundreds of juvenile murderers, many of whom are serving LWOP sentences. All of the juvenile lifers I have found were principal offenders or in some cases active accomplices in brutal murders. Because of the Miller decision, most offenders who are serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles have had the opportunity to present mitigating factors to a judge or jury. (There are some juvenile murderers who received mandatory LWOP prior to Miller and who have not been re-sentenced.) For juveniles who received discretionary LWOP, a judge or jury considered youth and mitigating factors and decided that the aggravating factors involved in the crimes outweighed the mitigating factors. The sentencing authorities determined that LWOP was an appropriate sentence despite those factors.
Introduction to the Movement to Free Juvenile Murderers
After the juvenile death penalty was abolished in Roper, a movement to end LWOP for juvenile killers began. Anti-JLWOP advocates argue that juveniles are categorically less culpable due to the hallmark traits of youth explained above. This argument is not valid as many juvenile criminals, such as Christopher Simmons, do not display any of these traits. And even when a crime does involve these traits, that does not necessarily mean that the offender did not know what they were doing. With the exception of failure to appreciate risks, none of the other hallmarks of youth make one less able to understand the harm they cause when committing serious crimes. Nor do they make an offender’s actions less voluntary. These points are addressed more thoroughly on this page. Advocates of ending JLWOP also argue that no juvenile criminal, no matter how heinous their crime, should ever get LWOP. LWOP, they argue, is a cruel and unusual punishment whenever imposed on someone one or more days away from their 18th birthday. From a moral perspective, this is nonsensical. There are certainly crimes committed by juveniles that warrant such a sentence. I will give one example to illustrate this point.
In 1987, 17-year-old Daniel LaPlante broke into the Gustafson family’s Townsend, Massachusetts home and then murdered Priscilla Gustafson and her two children when they returned. LaPlante first tied Priscilla to her bed, raped her, and shot the pregnant nursery school teacher twice in the head, murdering her and her unborn baby. He then drowned the two children, Abigail, seven, and William, five, in bathtubs. To say that LWOP is a cruel and unusual punishment for this triple murder is asinine. On this page, I make a moral argument for juvenile LWOP and list several more examples of crimes that warrant it.
I could go on and on with other reasons why arguments made by juvenile murderer advocates are absurd. But this page is not about their arguments, it is about their tactics and how they treat victims. And regardless of their arguments and the merits of those arguments, the way they treat victims is appalling.
The movement to free juvenile killers like LaPlante is very well funded. Many organizations have taken up the cause. Some of the main organizations fighting to end JLWOP are the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY). And from what I have seen, the higher-ups in these organizations are willing to severely harm victims to promote their agenda of freeing juvenile killers. Again, I recognize that the cruel behaviors detailed in this article are not displayed by all people who want to end juvenile LWOP. My criticisms are directed only towards the offender advocates who engage in these behaviors, which are mostly the leaders and prominent members of this movement, along with some politicians.
Part 2. Cruel and Unusual Punishment for Victims: How the Policies Advanced by the Movement to Free Teen Killers Hurt Crime Victims
The goal of the anti-JLWOP movement is to require parole hearings for all juvenile criminals and ultimately to release those offenders into society. It is one thing, however, to give an offender a meaningful chance to be released. And this may even be problematic in some cases. It is quite another thing to promote the types of policies juvenile killer advocates are promoting– policies that mandate frequent parole hearings after a short amount of time served in prison. These laws hurt victims by forcing them to constantly relive the crimes at parole hearings. And they deny justice.
Desire for Justice
Murder victims’ families are given life sentences even though they did nothing wrong. And the murderers who did do wrong are paroled from their life sentences. This is not fair or just.Marisa Florez, homicide survivor
To gain an understanding of how the murder of a family member impacts a person, one must first acknowledge the severity of this crime. Murder is legally recognized as the most egregious injustice there is. To murder is to rob someone of their life, to annihilate their dreams and goals, and to deny them the pleasure and enjoyment of living. A murder victim will never again be able to do the things they enjoyed, such as playing sports, reading, or socializing. Nor will they be able to have other lifetime experiences, such as traveling. Depending on when they are murdered, they may be denied the chance to graduate high school or college, get married, have children, see their children grow up, or meet their grandchildren. A very young murder victim may even be denied the chance to learn to speak or walk.
Murder victims are denied the ability to achieve what they worked hard for, whether that is a degree, a job, or retirement. All those dreams are obliterated by the murderers’ choices. Murder victims will never again get to see the people they love. And their families will never see them. As Marisa Florez, who lost her mother at the age of six wrote in testimony to New Mexico lawmakers:
People say it gets easier with time, but not when you’re a child with a whole life ahead. Not when your mom won’t make it to school performances, parent-teacher meetings, mother-daughter dates, or graduations, or see your firstborn child. If I want to be close to her, I have to sit next to her grave.
This injustice defines both victims and their families forever. As Jeanne Dotts-Brykalski, the daughter of murder victims Les and Carol Dotts, put it, “Murder cannot be undone it’s permanent. There’s no parole for the families. There’s no parole for the victims.”
Murder victims’ families desperately desire what our criminal justice system is supposed to give-justice. The American justice system is based on the idea that the punishment should fit the crime. For there to be justice, the offender should be given a punishment that is proportionate to their crime. And for some crimes, a sentence that allows parole is not proportionate compared to the suffering inflicted upon the victim and/or the act of taking the victim’s life and denying them the ability to accomplish their dreams.
Murder victims’ families do not all have the same views. Some forgive the killers and support their release. Some are neutral and have no strong opinion as to whether or not the offender should be released. And some oppose release. Many murder victims’ families believe that the murderers’ release from prison is an injustice, as it allows them to enjoy the freedom they brutally stole from their family members when they murdered them. When released from prison, the murderers get to move on with their lives, a leisure not afforded to murder victims and their families. Some victims both forgive the killers and oppose release. They want the killers to find redemption from the inside of prison, not from the outside. For example, murder victim Marie Belcastro‘s grandson wrote in a statement on the passage of Ohio Senate Bill 256:
Supporters say S.B. 256 is about rehabilitation. I believe in a God who does give second and more chances. I wrote to Larosa a few years ago, telling him that God loves him and wants to heal his mind and spirit. My grandmother was a woman of deep faith, and I know she’d share that good news with Larosa if she could. God can and does forgive. I can forgive. But this wonderful fact does not absolve Larosa of the consequences for his actions. Only God (and S.B. 256 apparently) can do that.
There are people behind bars who are freer in spirit than you and me. That’s because true rehabilitation is never determined by incarceration status. It’s the other function of prison that concerns me more. It’s the part about protecting innocent Ohioans from dangerous criminals. Have we forgotten about that part?
Offender advocates act as if victims who support release are correct in their views while victims who oppose release are false. To them, victims who oppose release have failed to move on, are hateful, and are overly emotional. Forgiving victims, on the other hand, have been enlightened. But the truth is that neither perspective is correct. They are just different. Victims should not be characterized as being hateful just because they want the criminal to receive a punishment that fits the crime. Victims should be respected whether they take the path of offender advocacy or the path of proportionate justice. Though I would not forgive and advocate for the criminal’s release if I were in their situation, I still respect victims who do. I would only advise victims against supporting the offender’s release if the offenders were psychopaths who were manipulating them. But if the offender is truly remorseful, forgiveness and support for release is up to the victims.
As Dave VanBogelen’s widow Barb says, “My husband’s murderers can’t give back what they took. They shouldn’t have the freedom they stole from him. It is unfair for her to take his life and then be released from prison and enjoy life. She should not have the right to walk on this earth free ever again. My family has had 30 years without him like the killers have had 30 years in prison. It is just not right for her to be released.” Dave was beaten and stabbed to death during an orchestrated robbery. The offenders, Amy Black and Jeff Abrahamson, then drove his body across town and dumped him in the woods before using the money they had robbed him of to go Christmas shopping.
“It’ll be 31 years. There’s not a day goes by you don’t stop and think about where’d she be right now, what would she be doing in her life, what kids would she have, who would she be married to” said Jena Muddiman, whose four-year-old daughter Barbara Thompson was raped and murdered by 15-year-old Christopher Segerstrom. “I don’t have that, so it’s kind of hard-pressed to think the person that took her life is going to be granted life. What he did to her is unforgivable and I don’t see how anybody in their right mind or soul and can live with themselves at night, think that it would be OK for him to get out after what he did to her.” As we explain in our offender page, Segerstrom lured little Barbara into the woods by telling her that they would catch butterflies. He then violently raped the child, ramming a stick into her vaginal cavity with so much force that it protruded into her abdominal cavity. He also suffocated her and beat her with a 40-pound rock. The beating was so severe that her skull was partially flattened with brain matter protruding.
As Laura Vasquez, whose 13-year-old daughter Tayde was murdered by 16-year-old Elizabeth Lozano, told a judge: “Elizabeth Lozano deprived the life of my child and sent her to a cemetery forever…Now in the name of that girl I ask her to be committed to prison for the rest of her life.” Tayde was shot in the head and robbed of jewelry at the DeForest Park nature trail in 1992.
“If I take someone else’s life, do I get the opportunity to enjoy mine?” said County Attorney Pete Orput. Orputt supported the Stuedemann family, whose daughter and sister Jolene was raped and stabbed 29 times with a screwdriver. “The victims’ families are relegated to a life of sadness. They’ve been given their own prison sentence. When people say, ‘We shouldn’t put children in prison,’ I say, ‘He didn’t hesitate to put other people in their own psychological prison.’”
Jena Muddiman hit the nail on the head with her statement to local media after her daughter’s murderer was re-sentenced and made eligible for parole. Jena told local news, “He doesn’t need to get out, that’s what’s important. He doesn’t deserve to get out. He doesn’t deserve anything. He got what he deserved. He got life without parole and that’s what he should do.”
Imagine if your child, sibling, parent, grandchild, or other family member was murdered the way Barbara, Jolene, or Tayde were murdered. Imagine if your pregnant wife was raped and executed and your children drowned in bathtubs. This is the reality for murder victims’ families. For the vast majority of people reading this, if you were in their positions, you wouldn’t want the killers to be released.
One of the favorite buzzwords of the movement to free juvenile killers is “second chances.” On a side note, this term is often inaccurate, as many juvenile killers who get long and life sentences have extensive criminal histories and have had several chances. That is explained more in-depth here.
Murder victims don’t get “second chances.” “I believe if you’re able to plan over three days to steal a car and murder someone — and then stabbing them 26 times … I don’t believe you have been sentenced too harshly. I don’t believe you are entitled to a second chance. Why? My brother didn’t get a second chance,” says NOVJM co-founder Jodi Robinson, whose brother Jimmy was murdered in 1990 by a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old..
To Dave Vanbogelen’s family, his killer Amy Black “already received a second chance; she got to live. Life is her second chance. All of Dave‘s chances ended on December 7, 1990.” Murder victims’ “second chances” consist of rotting under the ground. “If we want to visit my sister we have to go to a cemetery and talk to a stone,” said Tayde Vasquez’s sister Sarah. Just the thought of Lozano getting family visits in prison bothers the Vasquezes.
Barbara Thompson’s mother felt similarly. “I can’t believe that they’re doing this. I don’t understand why they seem to think that this is OK,” Barbara’s mother said. “I mean all of a sudden it’s unjust and inhumane for him to be done that way? Well, I’m sorry, maybe they should go to Stuckey Cemetery and go visit my daughter. She doesn’t get that chance to get up out of there.”
Reliving the Nightmares
Many murder victims’ families feel obligated to fight release and to be a voice for their dead family members who cannot speak for themselves. As one victim from Louisiana explained in written testimony to New Mexico lawmakers:
“People say we don’t have to go through parole hearings and can let it go. That’s not an option. We have to be the voice of our family members. They are not alive to seek justice. The family has to do it for them. The juvenile murderers silenced them eternally.”
To fight the potential injustice of parole, victims will speak up at parole hearings, re-sentencing hearings, and any other type of hearing regarding the offender’s sentence. The parole process and other types of hearing processes force victims to relive the most painful experiences of their lives, the murders of their loved ones. Unsurprisingly, the murder of a loved one causes people to suffer severe health problems such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. These conditions flare up whenever victims have to re-engage with the murderer and relive the crime. The victims suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms. For victims who have healed and moved on somewhat since the murders, their progress is undone by the parole process and by resentencing hearings, which juvenile offender advocates also force victims to suffer through.
“To just see him sitting there in court and staring at us back with this smug look on his face that he knows he’s back and he knows what he`s doing. He knows he`s stirring this up again for us,” Barbara Thompson’s sister Rachel Wilson said after enduring a court hearing. For Rachel, “Finally seeing him come in the courtroom seeing the person who actually did it instead of just a picture, it made me sick.” “I didn’t even want to breathe the same air as him in that courtroom, it made me sick,” said Barbara’s other sister Trena Hoffman. In her New Mexico testimony, Marisa Florez explained a similar experience at the four parole hearings she endured. “At parole hearings, I had to sit across from the murderer. My leg would shake. I would look at his hands thinking ‘how could you use those hands to kill my mom and how could you walk back to your truck after leaving her body on the side of the road?’ Parole hearings feel like retrials.”
“Every time, (there is a parole hearing) it’s like reliving the nightmare over and over again,” says Tracy Hickman, whose five-year-old daughter Sara West was molested, murdered, and mutilated by 16-year-old Billy Shafer during a satanic ritual. As Trisha Richardson Barnett, whose 12-year-old sister Robin was murdered by a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old in Arkansas and who has had to endure several resentencing hearings due to the younger killer’s juvenile status said, “it’s like we’re the ones being punished.” Brian Kirk, the grandson of Marie Belcastro, made a similar statement to local news, when speaking about Ohio SB 256. “They are punishing the survivors and the victim’s family, friends and loved ones!” “To put convicted criminal rights above innocent surviving victims and potential future victims is upside down world insane,” Brian added.
Forcing victims to endure this agony certainly is cruel and unusual– a claim leveraged by offender advocates about JLWOP. “They talk of ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ ” Jodi Robinson said. “What is more cruel than what we and other families have been put through again and again and again? Appeals. Commutation hearings. This is a horror story we thought was over 25 years ago.”
Offender advocates seem to believe that it is OK to force victims to endure court hearings and parole hearings long after the crime was committed. This is not true. Even when much time has passed since the crime, survivors still live with extreme pain. For Sara West’s mother Tracy, the pain caused by the gruesome murder of her daughter is just as debilitating as it was nearly 30 years ago.
I will end this subsection with a quote from Marisa Florez, an NOVJM member who has endured four parole hearings and has ultimately seen her mother’s murderer be released.
I have endured four parole hearings. I’m so overwhelmed with new things I have never heard about my mom’s murder. It is so hard to hear and every time I think I have an idea of how or why my mom was taken away from me and my little sister and brother, I’m wrong. I think I want so bad to know everything about it as if it would bring me some kind of closure. But I have been through four parole hearings with the murderer and I think it’s clear enough to me now that I will never know what really happened.
I had hoped that when I came to the first hearing in 2010 and would have the face to the name Miguel Herrera. My mom was a dream I once had and Miguel Herrera was my nightmare.
I will conclude with this. The murders themselves are not the only nightmares victims endure. Reliving the crimes are nightmares as well. But there is one major difference. Most murders are not committed in the name of “compassion.” But the tormenting and torturing of victims at criminal justice hearings is. And victims are experiencing this torment and torture because juvenile offender advocates and politicians don’t care about them as much as they do about perpetrators.
Torment and Fear
Not only are victims betrayed by the injustice of an early release, many fear it, and with good reason. For example, in 2020, a rape suspect who was released from jail due to COVID-19 concerns allegedly hunted down his accuser and murdered her before killing himself as well.
Knowing that the killers could be freed and target them next leads surviving victims to endure a truly indescribable fear. This fear is felt by many victims of juvenile criminals whose sentences are reduced due to juvenile offender advocacy. For example, when Roman Nose was re-sentenced to life with parole after 30 years (his sentence was later switched back to LWOP) and given the chance to be paroled in 2031, Jolene’s family was terrified, believing he would kill again and that would target Jolene’s mother or sister.
Victims who speak in favor of the offender’s incarceration often fear retaliation. For example, the family of Margaret Douglas chose to give victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing of Margaret’s killer Gavon Ramsay. Ramsay is an extremely disturbed young man who strangled Margaret to death for fun in her Wadsworth, Ohio home and then sexually assaulted her dead body–he undressed her, used her dead hand to pleasure himself, and placed her in sexual positions for photographs and videos. He was 17 when he committed the nightmarish murder. Margaret’s family knew that Ramsay would be able to hear and read their statements and that if they put their true thoughts into them, the rage that is held within him could intensify. They knew that giving honest victim-impact statements could give him reason to come after them. But they trusted that the criminal justice system would work and protect them– and it did, to the surviving victims’ relief. But this relief was undone after Ohio SB 256 made the diagnosed sexual sadist eligible for parole after serving 25 years–he will be in his early 40s and several of Margaret’s family members will still be alive. Now they have to worry about him being released at a relatively young age and retaliating against them. Margaret’s niece Patty writes in a statement on SB 256:
It has been three years since my Aunt’s murder, and I still have nights where I need to check closets and under the bed out of paranoia. I still have nights where I wake suddenly and have to put my gun next to me on the bed in order to feel safe. I still check the door and window locks three times every single night before I fall asleep. If Gavon Ramsay is ever released, this unease and fear will only increase. I cannot imagine going out into the world knowing that he is somewhere out there on the streets, especially when he will still be of an age where he is capable of causing incredible harm to others. Due to these fears, I will be speaking at each and every parole hearing that happens for him. I will do everything in my power to keep this man behind bars, despite the personal ramifications I will face of having to relive the details of my Aunt’s murder every five years. Gavon Ramsay took my Aunt Margaret’s life from her in the most disturbing and evil way, and his new sentence for her murder may allow him to live the majority of his natural life free. This sentence is in no way justice for what he did to her.
Victims are especially vulnerable to this debilitating fear if they were witnesses to the crime or the criminals have reason to be mad with them. Trisha Barnett and her family are just some of the many victims who have experienced this type of fear. 17-year-old Chad Kitchell and 18-year-old Steven Waggoner murdered Trisha’s 12-year-old sister Robin Richardson and attempted to murder her mother Hazel during a robbery in 1992. Kitchell pleaded guilty and was sentenced to LWOP. But decades later, Arkansas passed a law requiring parole eligibility for juveniles, even those responsible for horrendous murders like Kitchell. Trisha and her family are deeply concerned about the potential of him being released. They fear that he resents Hazel for surviving and will retaliate. The family of Marie Belcastro has similar fears. Prior to the enactment of SB 256, they had closure. But now they live with the reality that Marie’s killer could be released and retaliate. “What if Jacob holds a grudge against me or my family? Maybe we are potential targets down the road. I don’t know because it wasn’t something I had to even consider. Now it’s something I’ll be thinking about every single day,” said Marie’s grandson Brian.
This fear is often enhanced when the murderer is part of a gang. As one parent writes “Any release of either Victor Rodriguez or Jorge Munoz (the murderers) would mean we would be in fear for our lives. Gang members have been known to take vengeance upon those who have testified against them. There is no indication that either of them are no longer active in their gang. They should serve the life sentences with no chance for parole for the murder of my son Christopher McNelly.”
This fear is further exacerbated when the offender sends surviving victims threats. This is what Ohio murderer Billy Shafer did to the family of Sara West. “This man is a psychopathic killer and he should never be set loose,” said Sara’s paternal grandmother Shirley West. “He has sent death threats to our family and I am sure if he were set free he would come and kill us all.” Sara’s family has good reason to be concerned. During a babysitting job, Shafer sexually assaulted Sara before stabbing her. He slashed her throat from ear to ear, nearly decapitating her and he shot her multiple times in the head. Shafer also cut open Sara’s torso, removed her insides, and carved satanic symbols into her body parts. The murder was part of a satanic ritual.
Shafer had an interest in Satanism. The depraved 16-year-old sacrificed up to three animals per week, drank dog blood, and wanted to become a serial killer. He did, in fact, plan on murdering everyone else in the house, but was prevented from doing so after Sara’s father entered through the wrong door. He still remains dedicated to this plan, however, telling Sara’s family in a letter that he wants to kill them to finish his gift to Satan. One time, the surviving victims were notified that Shafer had been released–thankfully this was a mistake. But it was a mistake that left the grieving family horrified. Hopefully, this is as close to seeing Shafer’s release as Sara’s family will ever get.
Knowing that the killers will never be released into society to continue on their destructive path and take more lives gives a measure of peace to many victims. “It really has given me comfort and it’ll give more comfort to keep them in there for the rest of my life and theirs,” said the daughter of Oscar Manning who was beaten to death during a home invasion.
But for many victims, this peace has been replaced with distress, torment, and fear by the movement to free juvenile killers.
Legislation that mandates parole eligibility for all juvenile criminals, regardless of the nature of their crimes, takes away victims’ sense of justice and legal finality. In the words of Steve Lamford’s father:
For any judiciary committee or legislation to ever recommend the release of these murderers from prison is a slap in the face to everyone that has lost a family member, friend, or loved one to these killers. The only satisfaction we could possibly get is that there is no way these killers will ever get out of prison and will never hurt anyone again.
A Shattered Promise: Retroactive Sentence Reductions
Especially cruel to victims are retroactive sentence reductions. First, because victims were not planning on attending parole hearings or other hearings regarding the criminals’ sentences, they do not make necessary preparations, such as preserving documents or registering for victim notification. This puts them in an unfair position. Then there’s the emotional impact. Victims suffer especially intense pain when the criminals’ sentences are retroactively reduced.
Trauma is worse when it comes in a shock. All the suffering victims endure at parole hearings and other types of hearings is intensified when they did not expect those hearings. For most victims, retroactive sentence reductions are a cruel betrayal from the justice system. They were promised that the offenders would serve a certain amount of time, perhaps their lives in prison. Victims walk away from life and long sentences with the belief that they will not have to worry about the assailants getting out and navigate the criminal justice system for a certain period of time if ever. “When murderers are resentenced decades and decades later, that sense of finality in the criminal justice system is decreased,” says the lead prosecutor in the Becky Hauser case, which is discussed below.
As NOVJM co-founder Bobbi Jamriska, whose pregnant sister Kristina was murdered, writes:
In the end, after several weeks in court, he was found guilty, and subsequently sentenced to Life without Parole. We all walked away with the relief that the justice system had provided the best they could for us to move on. We believed that we would never have to revisit the judicial process for her case. We thought we could try to find our way out of the emotional abyss this had created. We accepted the word of the justice system that he would never be free.
For many victims, an LWOP sentence is the one solace that allows them to move on the best they can. They know their family member will not come back from the dead. But at least the perpetrator who murdered them will never be released into society, will never harm anyone in society again, and will never enjoy the freedoms the dead victims can’t. As Latrisha Barnett wrote in testimony to Ohio lawmakers, “Thankfully, the court case went quickly. Both killers plead guilty to capital murder and attempted murder. They both were sentenced to life without parole. While I knew my sister would never come back, I was secure in knowing that they would be in prison for the rest of their lives.” An LWOP sentence is a promise of legal finality and justice.
When criminals’ sentences are retroactively reduced, the promise that was given to the victims is broken. It’s as if a hammer was used to bash the promise into a million pieces. “We sat in those courtrooms day after day, ” said Sean Aylward, whose 15-year-old sister Beth Brodie was murdered by Richard Baldwin in 1992. They listened to “gruesome details of the crime scene. Whether or not he did this with murder with intention and premeditation. For two years we had to sit through that and then finally, we were almost relieved in 1995 when they said he was going away from the rest of his life and he would stay there.” “I feel betrayed by the justice system. Let down. I’m very angry,” said Dawn Santino, Beth’s sister.
Jolene Stuedemann’s family was put in a similar position. Her mother Jeanne told local news that she had thought the case was settled and felt sick when she learned that Roman Nose could be paroled. “We’re tormented by this. They promised he’d never get out,” Jeanne said. The promise given to the family of Margaret Douglas was broken by Ohio Senate Bill 256, yet another killer-friendly bill. Gavon Ramsay was originally sentenced to LWOP for the premeditated thrill-killing and post-mortem sexual assault of Margaret, a 98-year-old woman. But SB 256 reduced Ramsay’s sentence to 25 years to life. Margaret’s great-niece Patty wrote in a statement for our website:
“We were given a promise by the criminal justice system that this man would live out the rest of his life safely behind bars, and Ohio lawmakers have now broken that promise. They have done so without regard to how this impacts my family, and the Ohio communities this man will potentially be released into. Ahead of the sentencing, the prosecutor warned my family that the juvenile life without parole sentence was given out very rarely, and therefore it was possible Gavon Ramsay would be eligible for parole at some point. Christmas of 2018 was just the second time that year my whole family was all together, and we spent it reviewing each other’s impact statements. We spent that holiday discussing the possibility that, if we put our true thoughts and opinions in our statements, Gavon Ramsay would be able to read them and hear them. We discussed the risk of giving him fuel for the rage he carries inside him, knowing that at some point he may be released from prison while my siblings and I are still alive and he is relatively young, and knowing he may come after us at that point. We all decided to move forward with our statements as we saw fit, and trusted that the criminal justice system would ensure justice was served and that our safety and the community’s safety would be the priority when sentencing. This did indeed happen. The amount of relief we felt after the sentencing is immeasurable. That relief is now gone because of SB 256. We now spend every day worrying about his release. His release may happen not only when my siblings and I are still alive, but when my parents are potentially still alive due to how early into his sentence he will be eligible for parole. ”Statement on SB 256 from Margaret Douglas’s Niece
The juvenile murderer advocates have put the VanBogelen family through this experience as well. “The one solace my family and our town was given for the tragic and senseless loss of Dave was Black’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole plus life on the second charge,” says Dave’s widow Barb. Now Barb finds herself having to fight the well-funded and powerful effort to free Black and other juvenile murderers.
“And yet, here we are again, facing the tragedy we’ve spent the past 30 years trying to recover from. The movement to free Black and other juvenile killers has thrown us right back into the trauma we’ve worked so hard to manage all these years. I wasn’t prepared to deal with this, to relive this nightmare, as a wife and mother, and my family has paid an unfair price. This isn’t right. This is not what we were promised.”Barb VanBogelen
Ohio Senate Bill 256 re-opened the traumatic wounds of Marie Belcastro‘s family. Marie, 94, was attacked by Jacob Larosa, 15, in her own Niles, Ohio home in March 2015. Larosa tried to rape Marie. He beat her to death with a heavy metal flashlight. The beating Marie endured was so severe that her eyes ruptured and the bones in her face and the top of her skull were crushed.
Marie’s grandson wrote in a statement:
Larosa’s long journey from suspect to convicted felon took three and a half years, methodically winding its way first through the juvenile court system, then ultimately to Judge McKay’s courtroom in downtown Warren, Ohio. Our family left the courthouse that day of sentencing in October 2018 with a deep sense of gratitude for the people of Trumbull County, especially Chris Becker, who prosecuted the case.
In prison, Larosa continues to enjoy excellent legal representation, courtesy of Ohio’s taxpayers. In fact, the Ohio Supreme Court just heard another of his appeals. Thankfully the prosecutors in Trumbull County are top-notch (as are the Niles police).
Sadly, Ohio’s legislature and governor undid much of the successful prosecution of Larosa. With the signing of Senate Bill 256, the leaders in Columbus decreed that just about anybody in prison for life who committed their crimes as juveniles must be given a chance at parole. The law applies retroactively.
This bad law will result in future crimes against Ohioans. It also puts survivors who were previously comforted by life sentences into a new kind of hell where we must now prepare for a future of parole hearings and release possibilities. Before, we had closure, backed up by steel bars and armed guards. Now we face the possibility of a freed Larosa, wondering if we’ll be safe.Statement on SB 256 from Marie Belcastro’s Grandson
Even when the crimes happened years ago, forcing victims to relieve the crimes and breaking promises imposes terrible suffering upon them. For example, after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Miller was retroactive in 2014, Dora Larson was devastated, even though her daughter Vicki had been murdered 35 years before in 1979. Like the other murders described on this page, Vicki’s murder was brutal. 15-year-old Scott Darnell lured her into a cornfield with the promise of a pony, raped her, strangled her, and buried her in a pre-dug grave. The killer had an extensive criminal history and was on summer release when he carried out the planned crime. The brutality of the rape and murder of Vicki did not diminish as more time went on. It is just as an abhorrent crime now as it was in 1979.
“We fought for so long to keep Darnell behind bars, and now with the Supreme Court decision, he’s going to be re-sentenced and we’ll have to go through it all again,” she told local news. The thought of having to face Darnell in court was “torture” according to Dora. “It’s so painful, it’s like going back to the original trial. Darnell, he’s wired wrong. He wasn’t a child. He’s a murderer and he had a long criminal history.”
The family of Robert Goyette felt similarly when they went through a re-sentencing hearing for his killer 26 years later. “They feel that they were promised something by the criminal justice system 26 years ago and now it’s all changed,” said prosecutor Jeff Strelzin. “It isn’t just a broken promise, it’s having to relive everything that happened. Time does not heal all wounds, not when your loved one was murdered.” Robbie was shot in the head during a robbery by 17-year-old Eduardo Lopez Jr.
Justice Denied: A Stab in the Heart for Victims
It is especially painful for victims when the criminal is not given a proportionate sentence and justice is denied. For Chicago police commander Ron Holt, whose 16-year-old son Blair was murdered in 2007, the 75-year term the killer was re-sentenced to was a “slap in the face.”
I would go further and say that many of these unproportionate sentences are more than slaps in the face, they are stabs in the face. Maybe stabs in the heart is a better way to put it. And offender advocates have been stabbing victims in the face for years by promoting sentences that are not only not proportionate, but grossly lenient.
“Eighteen years is not justice,” said Jeanne Dotts Brykalski when her parents’ killer was up for parole. “It’s been an ongoing nightmare dealing with the criminal justice system.” “16 and a half years to me is just not enough,” Jennifer Boleander’s mom said after one of her daughter’s killers was recommended for parole. “[Jennifer’s killer Kyle Cummings] had a choice that night. He didn’t have to provide a weapon, he didn’t have to help move her body, he didn’t have to go back. He had choices to make and the choices he made weren’t the right ones.” Two men severely beat Jennifer after she resisted attempts from one of them to kiss her. They left her for dead only to return with another assailant and stab and slash her to death. The killer who was paroled, Kyle Cummings, has since been arrested and charged with several crimes, including rape and child abuse.
For many murder victims’ families, lenient sentences are painful betrayals from a system that was meant to get justice. “We are devastated and feel betrayed with Judge Lowy’s inability to give three consecutive life sentences without the eligibility of parole to the individual that took Colleen’s life in such a horrific manner,” said Peggie Ritzer following the sentencing of her daughter Colleen’s murderer. Colleen was just 24 when she was followed into a bathroom by her 14-year-old student Phillip Chism. The math teacher was then raped and stabbed 16 times by an assailant who then used a recycling bin to remove Colleen’s body from the school and hid her in a wooded area.
For the family of Penny Brown, the injustice was even greater. 15-year-old Edward Kindt was only sentenced to nine years to life for attacking the mother as she jogged, raping her, and strangling her to death with a leash from one of her dogs. Thankfully, a law named after Penny allows killers like Kindt to get sentences of 15-25 years to life.
For many victims, overly lenient sentences are outright insulting and offensive. For example, after Chism’s defense attorneys recommended that the rapist and murderer be eligible for parole in 15 years, Peggy said: “We are disgusted and personally offended with the defense’s repulsive recommendation that Colleen’s killer be parole eligible within 15 years, therefore putting him back into society at age 29 to kill again…The defense’s legal maneuvering is despicable and demonstrates utmost disrespect for our daughter and sister Colleen’s life. Evil cannot be rehabilitated.”
For Idaho Springs Police Chief Dave Wohlers, whose father was murdered, the 11-year sentence served by one of the 15-year-old killers was “an insult to the law enforcement profession.” Dave’s father Lyle Wohlers, a 26-year veteran with the Colorado State Patrol, was murdered while in the line of duty. Dave has had to fight hard for justice, testifying before the legislature, speaking up at parole hearings, and speaking publicly through the legal process.
These overly lenient sentences recommended and/or given in these examples are nowhere near proportionate to the crimes, making them offensively unjust. In some cases, the amount of time spent in prison before parole eligibility or release is nowhere near the amount of time on earth the victims were robbed of. For example, let’s say Colleen Ritzer would have lived to be 80 had she not been murdered. By murdering her when she was 24, Chism would be stealing 56 years from her life. If he were to only spend 15 years of his life in prison–and keep in mind that even in prison he does not lose his life as he can visit with people and do other things his dead victim can’t–his punishment would be nothing compared to the punishment he gave Colleen. Whereas the killer denied Colleen the ability to live life past 24, he would be able to live freely starting at 29. If he were released at 29 and lived to be 80, he would get 51 years to live freely as an adult, compared to the 24 total years Colleen lived on this earth and the six of those years she spent as an adult.
Some of the sentences juvenile killer advocates promote, such as 10 or 15 years to life, are insultingly light when compared to some crimes. By advocating for sentences that allow for parole after 15 or even 10 years, juvenile murderer advocates send the message that the victims don’t matter and that their suffering and/or deaths are only worth that lenient amount of time. Criminal sentences are supposed to be proportionate to the severity of the crime. So when you say that the crime only warrants that small punishment, you thereby demean its severity. The severity of the crime is determined in part by the value of what the offender takes away from their victim, which may be their personal possessions, physical health, mental health, or life. And by saying that ending a victim’s life is only worth 10 or 15 years you are by extension saying that what was taken itself, the victim’s life, is only worth that amount of time. This is outrageously cruel.
Perhaps the most devastating result of these sentencing changes is the actual release of the murderers. Preventing this is what drives devastated victims to participate in parole hearings. As painful as parole hearings might be, they are less painful than watching the killer go free.
In 2020, convicted murderer Jayson Speaks was granted work release, which led to significant emotional anguish for his victim’s family. In 1994, when he was 15, he and three other 15-year-olds pretended to be police and tricked Rebecca Hauser into pulling over on a county road. They proceeded to rob, shoot and beat her and stab her over 30 times. Three of the killers were sentenced to LWOP while the other got a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying for the prosecution. Speaks was later sentenced to life with parole and was ultimately granted work release.
Rebecca’s son Josh was only 10 when his mother was murdered. He spoke to local news about the impact Speaks’s release had on his family. Josh said that they felt more victimized by the process. He also pointed out that his mother didn’t get a second chance. The local news channel also spoke to sheriff Steve Hoffman. “Victims of violent crime have shared with me what they go through. They live with the losses every single day and the parole process is like ripping off a Band-Aid and making them relive it again…The process loses sight of the people who really matter — the survivors. To find that Jayson Speaks has actually been paroled is appalling.” Lead prosecutor Thomas Miller pointed out that “Becky Hauser lost probably 50 years of a very productive life, not to mention the harm that was done to her family, Jayson Speaks lost 25 years of his freedom…I’m not sure it was a proportional tradeoff.”
The release of one who horrifically murdered a loved one can also lead to intense feelings of anger and stress. For example, John Foreman told a radio station that he would kill his son’s murderer if he was released. Michael Woodmansee, who murdered five-year-old Jason in 1975, pleaded guilty in exchange for a 40-year sentence but was released after 28 years on good behavior.
“I do intend, if this man is released anywhere in my vicinity, or if I can find him after the fact, I do intend to kill this man,” the grieving father said. The murder of his son was extremely horrific, with the details sounding like something out of a horror movie. Woodmansee kidnapped Jason, stabbed him to death, and then, according to his journal, ate the boy’s flesh. He was not caught until he tried to attack another boy in 1982. Before being apprehended, he kept Jason’s bones on his dresser as trophies. Thankfully, after Woodmansee was released, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Put yourself in the position of Becky Hauser and Jason Foreman’s families. Imagine losing your mother at 10 years old. Imagine your own five-year-old son, grandson, nephew, brother, or cousin being kidnaped, stabbed to death, and having parts of his body eaten and stored as trophies. Would you want to see them released? The juvenile offender advocates say we should put ourselves in the position of the murderers–the ones who chose their situations. I am asking that you put yourself in the position of the victims who were egregiously harmed due to the choices of others, not due to their own volition.
Many advocates of teen killers do not just want to give these offenders meaningful chances to be released. They want to give them excessive numbers of parole hearings after short periods of time (relative to the crimes) and for them to ultimately be released. Unfortunately, some lawmakers have the same goal of releasing juvenile criminals and have enacted stunningly unjust laws. In Oregon, SB 1008 makes all juvenile offenders eligible for parole in only 15 years. Lawmakers there seem to think that a murder committed by a juvenile, even a horrific murder like the one committed by Woodmansee, can never warrant more than 15 years to life. That’s only a decade and a half. If paroled the first time around, the murderers would be freed in their early 30s and get to live a free life from then on.
Lawmakers in West Virginia also disrespected victims by enacting a similar law. HB 4210 requires that juvenile criminals be eligible for parole within 15 years. If they are serving life sentences they must be considered for parole every three years. Those with sentences less than life must be considered for parole annually. This law is an absolute nightmare for victims. They may have to endure over a dozen parole hearings. A 17-year-old murderer with a life sentence will have a hearing at age 32. Then at age 35. Then at age 38. Then more hearings at ages 41, 44, 47, 50, 53, 56, 59, 62, 65, 68, and 71. If he lives to be 71 he is entitled to 14 parole hearings over a 39-year period. That’s 14 times victims will take time out of their lives to speak with the parole board. That’s 14 times they will re-live the crimes. That’s 14 times they will endure flashbacks and nightmares. For almost four decades, victims will live in a state of constant agony, never getting a break, knowing that even if they can prevent parole this time, they will have to go through the parole process all over again in three years and then three years after that and three years after that. Victims of criminals who get non-life sentences have it even worse. If the criminal who harmed them lives to be 70, he gets 55 parole hearings–and this assumes he never gets out.
There’s no denying it. Laws like these are designed to release as many juvenile criminals as possible. And at the expense of victims. Nevada’s new juvenile criminal sentencing law is slightly better than those enacted in Oregon and West Virginia. AB 267 made non-homicide offenders eligible for parole in 15 years and homicide offenders eligible in 20 years.
I can’t write about cruel anti-victims’ rights laws without mentioning Ohio SB 256. I will admit that it is substantially better than the laws discussed above and the laws offender advocates want, which are discussed below. A full explanation of the injustice of SB 256 and the harms it will cause can be found here and here. You can also learn about this horrific law by listening to this guest episode on Roberta Glass’s True Crime Report.
The bill, which was promoted by CFSY, mandates parole eligibility after 25 years for murderers who kill one person and 30 years for double murderers. There is a very narrow exception allowing LWOP for triple murderers–it was the least they could do. The triple homicide exception was added in for the sole purpose of preventing mass shooter T.J. Lane from being paroled, as this would be very politically unpopular. Non-homicide offenders must be eligible for parole after 18 years–even if they ruin their victims’ lives by severely disfiguring, disabling, or incapacitating them. Or even if they commit multiple serious violent crimes like rape and attempted murder. A 17-year-old serial rapist or other dangerous non-homicide offender is required to be parole eligible at 35. He then is entitled to parole hearings at ages 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, and 70. If he lives to be 70, victims, who perhaps fear retaliation, can expect to go through eight parole hearings, assuming he isn’t released. It is outrageously cruel that Ohio lawmakers would impose this on victims.
This excerpt from the Roberta Glass episode explains the T.J. Lane exception.
Now let’s talk more about the T.J. Lane exception. The murders committed by [Gavon] Ramsay, [Jacob] LaRosa, and others impacted by this bill are not any less horrific than T.J. Lane’s murders. They’re just less notorious. It is hypocritical to oppose releasing Lane while being totally O.K. with releasing [Jordyn] Wade or Ramsay.
And let’s make something clear. The T.J. Lane exception was not created because of any moral qualms with releasing him. It was political. Remember, the first bill would have made Lane eligible for parole. And the first version of SB 256 would have made future mass killers eligible for parole. If the people who wrote the T.J. Lane exception into the first version did so because they care about his victims, they were being extremely hypocritical and dumb. If Lane is too dangerous to consider releasing, then so are future mass killers. And if Lane doesn’t deserve to be released, neither does a future mass killer who kills the same amount of people or more. And neither should the many other juvenile killers whose crimes are equivalent to Lane’s in terms of their heinousness.
But I don’t think that the T.J. Lane exception was added into SB 256 because of some concern about his victims that failed to be extended to other victims. Remember, politicians were apparently O.K. with freeing Lane before when they promoted a bill that would have allowed him to be paroled upon turning 40. And they were O.K. with freeing future mass killers. I don’t think they suddenly developed a deep concern for Lane’s victims that they didn’t have when they supported the first bill that could have freed him. They just realized that there was no way they could pass this if it reduced Lane’s sentence. If they did manage to pass a law making Lane eligible for parole, they would have trouble getting re-elected. They thought that if they excluded him they could just sneak this by.
And if Lane’s massacre were not as notorious, there would be on triple killing exception. Let’s say that LaRosa’s murder and attempted rape was more notorious. If that were the case SB 256 would have an exception allowing LWOP for murders of elderly people and murders involving rapes. If Jordyn Wade’s massacre was more notorious we would have a quadruple homicide exception that applies to accomplices.
The people who wrote SB 256 weren’t thinking about Lane’s victims. They were only thinking about what would allow them to promote their agenda of freeing juvenile criminals and getting re-elected. Apparently, victims will only be considered if their case garners enough media attention. It is inappropriate to base laws off of media attention and to devalue victims whose cases did not get enough of it.
Learn more on the impact of SB 256 on victims here: Statements from Ohio victims are also given below.
The biggest amount of pain and stress I feel by the potential release of my Aunt’s killer is due to the lack of justice it means for her and what she went through. The crimes done against her that night were horrifying, and her suffering is something that will always haunt me. The possibility of her killer being released is so unjust and belittles the torture that she went through that night. That lack of justice is the most upsetting and disturbing to me.Statement from Margaret’s great-niece for our memorial
I am also distraught over now having to relive that night in detail when giving interviews. During the initial investigation and sentencing, my family did not feel that we needed to give any interviews or get any public support in order to obtain justice. And we were correct in that- the judge gave the killer a life without parole sentence due to the horrifying specifics of his crime. Now that Ohio lawmakers have reduced this sentence, we feel we have to reach out to the media and give interviews to make the public aware of the horrible, unjust ramifications of this new law. Going through these interviews and discussions is awful.
After my Aunt’s murder, I didn’t really sleep for weeks. I only started to feel safe to fall asleep after purchasing an alarm system and a gun, and even then it took almost a year for me to sleep soundly. I am now having nightmares again, and now laying in bed feeling unsafe to fall asleep due to discussing all the details repeatedly in interviews. I again don’t feel safe in my own home because of the changes to Ohio law, and the potential release of Gavon Ramsay.
When my grandmother’s killer was sentenced to life without parole, it was a huge relief. Knowing that my family wouldn’t be burdened with parole hearings was key to that relief. Now that Ohio has backtracked on protecting us from my grandma’s killer, I’m filled with anxiety, especially for my children.Statement from Marie’s grandson for our memorial
I feel like the progress I’ve made personally since the murder has been wiped away. Once there was closure, backed up by steel bars and armed guards.
Now there is a sense of profound betrayal. I’ve known and worked on Gov. DeWine’s campaigns for over 31 years. How could my governor and legislators care more about coddling killers than protecting victims?
My girls have been in and out of therapy ever since the murder. All of the feelings they worked through are back. For me, it’s 10-fold anger. Because before, if I was angry, it was directed to the killer.
Now that anger is directed towards a governor who was a county prosecutor and Ohio attorney general. A governor whose home I had visited multiple times over the decades as a campaign supporter.
I’m angry with the Republican Party, because they’ve always positioned themselves as tough on crime. This law is tough on victims!
I haven’t felt this way since the first week or so after the murder. I’m in a state of shock. I’m exhausted. I’m angry. But I’ve already made some friends who are committed to this fight.
I will get through this, because I will dedicate my life to overturning this massive injustice.
And most of these asinine laws are still not as bad as some of the laws that anti-JLWOP advocates want. In Pennsylvania, HB 1999 would have made all juvenile criminals eligible for parole at age 31 and every three years after that. It was supported by CFSY, the Juvenile Law Center, and the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
Under this law, murderers like Brian Bahr who were 17 at the time of the crime could be released after 13-14 years in prison. Again, an absurdly lenient sentence given the nature of some juvenile crimes, such as Bahr’s murder of Danni Romig. Danni was only 12 years old. Bahr lured her under a train trestle, raped her, beat her, and threw her in a river. Water was found in her lungs, indicating that she was still alive when Bahr threw her in the river. Police later found a list he had created, consisting of “23 things to do to a girl in the woods.” Those 23 things included raping a girl and throwing her in a river. Even if this rapist and murderer was never released he would have an absurd number of parole hearings. If he lived to be 60, he would have hearings at ages 31, 34, 37, 40, 43, 46, 49, 52, 55, and 58. That’s 10. If he lived to be 70 he also would get hearings at 61, 64, 67, and 69. That would be 14 hearings, assuming he isn’t ultimately set loose. The hearings would continue for 30-40 years. Danni’s family, who understandably opposes the idea of Bahr being released, would be forced to relive the crime every three years over a period of 30-40 years. Now that’s cruel and unusual punishment.
During a Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Joe Heckel from the advocacy group Fight for Lifers West (which also wants to end all LWOP), and William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, argued that violent juvenile criminals should instead be given sentences of 10 years to life. Once the 10 years have passed DiMascio suggested the violent criminals get parole hearings once a year. A 17-year-old offender who lives to be 70 would get 53 hearings, assuming they don’t get out.
In New Mexico, in 2021, lawmakers introduced SB 247, which would have made all juvenile criminals, even mass shooter Nathaniel Jouett, eligible for parole after only 10 years. They would have been entitled to parole hearings every two years after that. The bill was amended so that killers like Jouett would be entitled to parole hearings after 15 years. A 15-year to life sentence would demean Jouett’s rampage of death to an insulting extent. As with other horrific bills, SB 247 would have allowed juvenile killers to have up to several dozen parole hearings starting after a short amount of time in prison, thereby trapping victims in a never-ending cycle of trauma and torment. It was supported by CFSY and other offender advocates. Thankfully, it was defeated.
The powerful and well-known ACLU has also gotten behind releasing juvenile criminals after offensively short amounts of time in prison. In one report, they listed recommendations for states to “address extreme sentences, particularly for youth.” Recommendation number 4 stated: “For young offenders serving sentences of 20 years or more: In general, set parole eligibility at no more than 10 years after they came into custody for this offense. At the parole eligibility date, there should be a presumption in favor of release, rebuttable based on their current conduct and risk” (emphasis added). Recommendation number 3 was that states ban trying juveniles in adult court. This would mean that all juvenile criminals would be released at ages 18, 19, 21, 25, or whatever age juvenile court jurisdiction ends in their state. These recommendations can be found on page 11 of the report.
The ridiculous laws discussed above apply to juveniles tried as adults. And juvenile criminal advocates aren’t done there. Many want to end adult prosecution for some or all juvenile teenage criminals. Recall the ACLU recommending in a report that states ban the practice of trying juveniles in adult court. If tried as a juvenile, one can only be incarcerated until juvenile court loses jurisdiction over them. Juvenile court jurisdiction continues until the offender reaches a certain age. That age varies throughout the country. In some states, that age is 21, and in others it is 25. In some states, juvenile court jurisdiction ends earlier. By keeping a juvenile criminal in juvenile court you ensure their release at age 18, 19, 21, 25, etc. Depending on the age they are when first incarcerated, this could mean a sentence as light as two or three years, which absolutely does not give justice and which does not incapacitate violent criminals long enough to keep society safe.
In California, SB 1391, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown, bans all juveniles under 16 from being tried as adults. This includes juvenile criminals like Daniel Marsh, who was one month away from his 16th birthday when he tortured, murdered, and eviscerated an elderly couple for fun.
Marsh extensively planned the murders, wearing tape on his shoes so as to not leave footprints, wearing gloves and a mask, and wearing all black. By committing the murders, he was living out his long-held fantasy of torturing and killing people. He later said that the murders gave him the most enjoyable feeling he had ever experienced and that this good feeling was heightened when the victims were conscious and resisting. He also planned additional murders.
SB 1391 has had a significant negative impact on the surviving victims of Marsh. As Claudia’s daughter Victoria Hurd wrote in testimony to Ohio lawmakers:
My family and I continue to live in fear of the day Marsh could be released. Our whole community fears for its safety should that day come. I have had years of intensive treatment for PTSD, which affects every area of my life. We grieve not only the loss of our beloved parents, but each of us must live with the gruesome reality of their deaths and the fact that their torturer and killer could be released simply because he was a juvenile.
We all continue to spend thousands of dollars on therapy, re-location, and travel to and from court dates. We have done everything we know to move forward from this horrible tragedy, but we relive it every time this case goes to court again. It’s trauma that never ends.
Another killer impacted by SB 1391 is Keymonte Lindsey, who, at 15, murdered 17-year-old football player JJ Clavo in an ambush-style shooting. JJ’s family and prosecutors pushed to have him tried as an adult, but that possibility was crushed by SB 1391. The killer was convicted of first-degree murder in juvenile court and could be released at age 23. “I have fought for him to be tried as an adult. I do not believe that he should get off of all the charges he’s facing and only have to do a limited amount of time. I don’t think our system is created to truly rehabilitate in the short amount of time he will serve,” said Nicole Clavo, JJ’s mom. She also pointed out that Lindsey was aware of what he was doing when he pulled the trigger. “He knew what he was doing, and he should be facing the crime that he did.” According to Nicole, SB 1391, “traumatizes and puts victims back in the place they were the first day they found out they lost their loved ones.”
In California, juvenile court jurisdiction lasts until age 25. After an offender who was tried in juvenile court turns 25, they must be released from incarceration. There is a way to extend juvenile court jurisdiction, but it is extensive. A jury must unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender is still dangerous. If a jury does make this finding, the criminal can be incarcerated for two more years. After the two years are up the offender must be released unless they are again found by a unanimous jury to be dangerous beyond a reasonable doubt. If prosecutors wish to keep them incarcerated, this process will repeat every two years until they are ultimately released.
Thankfully, SB 1391 was challenged. But in OG v. The Superior Court, the California Supreme Court determined that it did not conflict with Proposition 57, which gave juvenile court judges the authority to determine if 14-17-year-olds can be tried as adults. Because it was upheld, Marsh and others like him could be released upon reaching age 25. (Some cases impacted by SB 1391 are listed on this page.) Several organizations that advocate for juvenile criminals submitted amicus briefs supporting 1391. This includes the EJI, Pacific Juvenile Defender Center, Los Angeles County Bar Association, California Public Defender Association, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, and Human Rights Watch. CFSY also supports it.
Offender advocates promoted SB 1391 to benefit teen criminals-contrary to their claims, there is no way society could benefit from allowing aspiring serial killers like Daniel Marsh to go free at age 25, absent repeated trials. If advocates of SB 1391 believed they were benefiting society or victims, they were horribly mistaken. As Nicole Clavo stated, “That wasn’t a bill put forth for victims. It wasn’t a bill put forth for communities. It wasn’t a bill put forth for those who support victims. It was truly a bill that only helped those who perpetrated or committed a crime.”
Some pro-offender policies come, not from legislatures, but from prosecutors. Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon is one such rogue prosecutor. He has gone further then SB 1391-he is refusing to prosecute any juvenile as an adult. With Gascon as prosecutor, a 17-year-old could murder a dozen people and only spend eight years in juvenile detention. Gascon’s dangerous policy has devastated the family of Sierra Brown and Uniek Atkins. Sierra and Uniek, ages 16 and 27, respectively, were murdered in November of 2018. The suspects are two juveniles, one of whom was 17 and 11 months old at the time of the murders. According to Kathleen Cady, a retired Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who is representing the victims’ family, the defendant would get life in prison if convicted as an adult.
Unfortunately, young adult killers are also being rewarded by these policies. As I discuss on this page, many advocates who want to end juvenile LWOP really wish to end LWOP for all offenders. They are just starting with juveniles. In California, AB-1308, which was signed by Governor Brown in 2017, makes violent criminals sentenced to life in prison eligible for parole after 25 years if they were under 26 when they committed their crimes. This resulted in the release of Bradly Hardison, who, at 25, shot Sonjii Johnson five to six times and killed her. The motive for murdering the 23-year-old was to prevent her testimony implicating him in a previous double-homicide. Sonjii’s younger brother was shot during the attack as well, but survived. Hardison, as the result of a plea deal, was sentenced to 31 years to life. Because of AB-1308, the murderer got an earlier parole hearing.
Sonjii believed in telling the truth because she was taught this as a child growing up. The last time I saw my daughter alive was early that morning. I still feel like something has been ripped out of me.Sonjii’s mother
By trying to free murderers without any consideration for the victims, juvenile offender advocates send a clear message–victims don’t matter. I will end this section with a quote from Barb Van Bogelen.
“As if what we’ve already suffered, what Dave suffered, isn’t enough. Now, we have activists working to free our loved ones’ murderers, telling us time and time again, with each new passing of juvenile justice reform measures, that we, the victims, have stopped mattering; that it is more important to try to rehabilitate murderers like Black, who’s shown no remorse for her crime, than it is to maintain respect for a grieving family. It’s a disgrace.”Barb Van Bogelen
Part 3. Ignoring Victims
As explained above, many people who are involved in the movement to end juvenile LWOP, especially the leaders and higher-ups, clearly do not care about victims. They are willing to literally torture victims’ families with repeated parole hearings.
Juvenile offender advocates often claim they care about victims and assert that money saved due to their policies should go to us. I do not doubt that many offender advocates do have concern for victims and a desire to support us. But, as described through this entire article, most of the powerful higher-ups do not care at all. For these people, claims of compassion for victims are purely political. They don’t mean it.
Powerful pro-juvenile offender organizations have explicitly denied our requests to keep us informed in regards to legislation. As explained above, victims are severely traumatized by surprise parole hearings. NOVJM asked leaders from two juvenile offender advocate organizations to simply inform us of retroactive legislation they were filing. This would allow us to prepare victims for parole hearings and mitigate some of the trauma. These organizations blatantly refused.
One of these organizations was the Equal Justice Initiative. Miller v. Alabama was going before the Supreme Court and NOVJM co-founder and current president Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins made a simple request of EJI founder Bryan Stevenson. Keep in mind that Jennifer had worked with Stevenson to oppose the death penalty and considered him to be a friend. She wanted him to let her know which in states EJI was filing juvenile justice legislation. This would allow victims to be informed of sentencing changes beforehand so they would not have to endure the trauma that accompanies sudden changes in the killers’ sentences and unexpected re-engagement with the criminal justice system.
Stevenson refused to let Jennifer know the states in which EJI was trying to make legal changes. We just wanted to be informed of legislation that could impact us. NOVJM does not have anywhere near the amount of money and resources EJI has. EJI and the criminals it advocates for have much more power and influence and could have at least kept us informed. But they refused even that. Stevenson refused to help and inform us, even though we are the victims of the killers he is trying to free and are significantly impacted by EJI’s actions. Stevenson told her that NOVJM victims were opponents.
The other organization that has refused to inform NOVJM is the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (CFSY). CFSY’s main goal is to mandate release eligibility for all juvenile criminals. They claim to care about victims. In testimony in favor of Ohio SB 256, from December 3, they write:
“Finally, the CFSY has deep concern for those who bear the greatest costs of any criminal justice policy—the loved ones of victims who have died due to violence. Our hearts go out to those who have been hurt by youth and we work closely with victims’ family members who engage in restorative justice efforts to promote healing. We recognize that in many communities, families may have both loved ones hurt by violence and loved ones incarcerated for committing violent acts. We strongly encourage that the costs saved be redirected to improve support services for victims and their families and improve violence prevention programs.”
If CFSY really believes all this, they sure don’t act like it. For over two years, CFSY founder Jody Lavy and Jennifer had a cordial relationship. But Lavy gave up and stopped communicating with us. As they parted ways, Jennifer asked Lavy to notify NOVJM of retroactive legislation they were filing so that we could prepare victims. But she refused to do even that, telling us that we were opponents and that she was done working with us. She even cut Jennifer off the CFSY email list.
Let me make this clear. EJI and CFSY were made aware that by retroactively reducing sentences without our knowledge they would seriously hurt us. We asked for them to reduce this harm simply by keeping us informed. They refused even that because it would get in the way of their agenda of freeing killers. They were willing to increase the traumatic impact on victims so that they could better advance their goals. Let that sink in.
NOVJM also requested that EJI and CFSY give 10% of their money to victims support services, such as trauma counseling. They have so much money to spend on freeing our loved ones’ killers. We thought it would be fair if some went to support the victims. Both organizations refused to do so.
Part 4. Painful Propaganda: How the Movement to Free Teen Killers Hurts Victims with Propaganda
To promote their agenda, advocates of ending JLWOP must paint a certain picture, one that is very different from reality. The reality is this: JLWOP remains rare and is only given in extreme cases, as explained in the introduction. The murderers that offender advocates are trying to free are responsible for some of the most egregious crimes imaginable. This reality makes the anti-JLWOP agenda more difficult to promote. So juvenile murderer advocates conjure up a pretend reality, one that is both inaccurate and deeply hurtful.
The false image murderer advocates create is one of dumb reckless immature “children” with impaired judgment who made poor choices and “mistakes.” NOVJM recognizes that many juvenile offenders do, in fact, make immature mistakes due to impaired judgment. But murder is not a mistake. Crimes committed by those who get life and long sentences certainly cannot be placed in the “immature mistake” category.
The Brutal Reality
Many juvenile murders are in fact evil. The offenders knew how their actions harmed victims. They were aware of the physical and emotional pain and terror their victims experienced as a result of their actions. And they were aware of the consequences of killing the victims–that the victims lost their lives and could no longer enjoy life, see their families, or accomplish their dreams. Yet these murderers chose to inflict that harm for their own benefit or enjoyment.
I will list some examples of juvenile murderers who got LWOP. These are not the only juveniles who committed evil crimes. We profile hundreds of juvenile killers on our website, many of whom got LWOP. All of the juvenile LWOP recipients I have researched have committed brutal crimes. This is just a sample.
On April 7, 1990, Richard Langert and his wife Nancy Bishop-Langert, who was three months pregnant, came back to their Winnetka, Illinois home after a family outing. Unbeknownst to them, an evil presence had broken into their home and was waiting for them. Its name was David Biro. Biro was a 16-year-old psychopath who had a long history of violent and disturbing behavior. He had decided that he wanted to know what it would feel like to kill people and had spent weeks planning the murders. Biro first shot Richard in the head execution-style. He then turned the gun on Nancy, who begged him not to kill her baby. She cowered in the basement corner. Biro shot her in her pregnant belly and left her and her child to die.
Ralph Cruz Jr.
On August 4, 2000, Lucila Bojorquez and her two children, six-year-old son Brandon Esquer and seven-year-old daughter Jenny Bojorquez got in their car in an apartment complex parking lot in Tucson, Arizona and prepared to drive home. Ralph David Cruz Jr., 16, attacked the 36-year-old mother and her children, pointing a Glock .40 caliber handgun at them and demanding that Lucila give him their car. When Lucila refused to comply, he shot her three times, twice in the chest and once in the head. Cruz then pulled the mother’s dead body out of the car and drove off with it, running over her. Lucila’s children were still inside of the vehicle and were abducted. Cruz later murdered them by shooting them in their heads. He also shot Jenny in the arms and chest. He left the dead children’s bodies at an overlook at West Gate’s Pass in the Tucson Mountains.
De’ Marquise Elkins
On the morning of March 21, 2013, Sherry West took her 13-month-old son Antonio Santiago for a stroll to the post office in Brunswick, Georgia. While the mother and son were returning home they were attacked by 17-year-old De’ Marquise Elkins and 15-year-old Dominique Lang. The attackers attempted to rob the mother and son at gunpoint. Elkins pointed a handgun at Sherry and demanded money. But Sherry, who had no money to give him, did not comply. Elkins threatened to murder Antonio, saying, “give me your money or I’m going to kill you and I’m going to shoot your baby and kill your baby.” Sherry begged the robber not to murder her baby, saying, “don’t shoot my baby!” Elkins shot the terrified mother. One bullet grazed her head while the other went through her leg. Lang later testified that Elkins counted down from five. Elkins went over to baby Antonio. Sherry tried to cover her baby with her arms. Elkins shot the baby in between the eyes at point-blank range with a .22 caliber handgun and murdered him execution-style.
On June 10, 1985, Johnny Freeman enticed five-year-old Shavanna McCann with candy and lured her to a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of the Henry Horner Homes in Chicago. There, Freeman, who was three months away from his 18th birthday, raped the child. He then shoved her out the window. Shavanna managed to hold on to the ledge of the window. She screamed for her mother. Freeman then peeled Shavanna’s fingers off the ledge and threw her out the 14th story window.
In the early morning hours of March 5, 2008, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Demario Atwater, 21, and Laurence Lovette, 17, abducted 22-year-old Eve Marie Carson at gunpoint. The kidnappers drove the UNC student body president to several ATMs and forced her to withdraw money. Lovette later told an acquaintance that Atwater “was fiddling with her clothes and touching her in certain parts of her body.” Eve tried to reason with her captors, telling them that they did not have to commit these crimes. She also begged for her life. But the kidnappers showed no mercy and chose to murder her to prevent her from reporting the crimes they had committed against her. When Eve realized that the robbers were about to murder her she tried again to reason with them. She asked them to “pray with me.”
Lovette shot Eve four times with a .25 caliber handgun. The bullets pierced her right shoulder, right upper arm, right buttock, and right cheek. But Eve survived. Atwater then shot her in the head with a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun. A forensic psychologist and criminal profiler stated that the manner in which Eve was shot showed a “complete lack of regard for another person.”
These murderers (again these are just a couple of examples) fully comprehended the impacts their crimes had on their victims. Yet they chose to commit them for their own pleasure and benefit. This is the reality of juveniles who get life and long sentences–cold-blooded and callous crimes that are committed for selfish reasons. But many anti-JLWOP advocates do not want us to see this reality. They instead portray all juvenile crimes as being immature dumb reckless mistakes made due to under-developed brains, impaired judgment, and poor decision making.
Immoral Judgment, Not Impaired Judgment
When EJI founder Bryan Stevenson argues that juveniles are less culpable in his book Just Mercy, he writes the following: “Young adolescents lack life experience and background knowledge to inform their choices; they struggle to generate options and to imagine consequences; and, perhaps for good reason, they lack the necessary self-confidence to make reasoned judgments and stick by them. We argued that neuroscience and new information about brain chemistry help explain the impaired judgment that teens often display. When these basic deficits that burden all children are combined with the environments that some poor children experience….adolescence can leave kids vulnerable to the sort of extremely poor decision making that results in tragic violence” (emphasis added) (Stevenson 268-269). A CFSY activist made the same outrageous claim during a hearing on New Mexico SB 247. He called juvenile crimes “critical errors in judgment” in front of several victims.
Not all juvenile crimes result from “impaired judgment” or “poor decision making.” Again, many teens do make poor choices and cause harm unintentionally. But simple errors in judgment and poor decision making do not lead one to commit aggravated murder. Some juvenile criminals, while having immoral judgment, did not display impaired judgment or decision making in any way. They wanted something, developed a plan to get it at the expense of others, and executed the plan. There were no cognitive impairments and there was no lack of or impairment regarding the understanding and appreciation as to what the consequences would be. In fact, many crimes involved smart decision making by the juvenile assailants, with these assailants developing mature, sophisticated, and detailed plans which they carried out successfully.
Portraying callous and calculated acts of depravity against innocent people as simply being bad decisions made by “children” is very insensitive and deceitful.
Stevenson further writes: “Most of the juvenile lifer cases we handled involved clients who shared Evan’s confusion about their adolescent behavior. Many had matured into adults who were much more thoughtful and reflective; they were now capable of making responsible and appropriate decisions. Almost all of the cases involved condemned people marked by the tragic irony that they were nothing like the confused children who had committed a violent crime” (emphasis added) (Stevenson 266). Confused? Where was the confusion when Daniel Marsh carried out his calculated plan to butcher and eviscerate a couple? Where was the confusion when Johnny Freeman raped a little girl and threw her out a 14th story window? Did he think he was playing a fun game by dangling her out the window and then let go in a moment of a daze? Again, this language does not represent the real nature of LWOP-warranting crimes and is deeply offensive.
A Blanket Approach
Juvenile murderer advocates further mislead by claiming that the typical traits associated with youth–impulsivity, immaturity, susceptibility to peer pressure, recklessness, and failure to appreciate risks–are involved in all juvenile crimes. Look at, for example, a quote from Just Mercy given above. “Young adolescents lack life experience and background knowledge to inform their choices; they struggle to generate options and to imagine consequences; and, perhaps for good reason, they lack the necessary self-confidence to make reasoned judgments and stick by them. We argued that neuroscience and new information about brain chemistry help explain the impaired judgment that teens often display. When these basic deficits that burden all children are combined with the environments that some poor children experience….adolescence can leave kids vulnerable to the sort of extremely poor decision making that results in tragic violence” (emphasis added) (Stevenson 268-269).
This is absurd. Juveniles are a large group. Not everyone in that group is the same. There are plenty of juveniles who do not display all or any of these traits, some of whom commit crimes. Look at the murders carried out by Daniel Marsh, Christopher Simmons, and David Biro. All crimes were extensively and carefully planned rather than being immature or impulsive. Marsh’s crime was so well planned that he left no DNA, fingerprints, footprints, or any other kind of evidence at the scene. The trial court found that it “was a highly sophisticated, extraordinary and rare crime even for the most hardened and seasoned adult criminal.” None of these three offenders were under peer pressure when they committed the crimes–they acted alone. And none failed to appreciate risks or consequences. These were thrill killings. They committed the crimes because of the consequences and the thrills they derived from them. And these are just some of the many examples of juvenile crimes that involved none of the “hallmarks of youth.” More examples can be found in Are Juveniles Categorically Less Culpable?
Murder is Not a Mistake
A common buzzword phrase used by advocates of freeing juvenile murderers is “no one should be defined by their worst mistake” or something to that effect.
In a Columbus Dispatch op-ed, a CFSY activist argues in favor of SB 256. He writes: “Twenty-six years ago, things looked very different for me than they do now — I was sitting behind bars, serving time for harm I caused when I was just a child. I had no hope that I would ever amount to anything because I had been told by the system that my greatest mistake would define me forever” (emphasis added). Also, note the use of the word “child.” Painting his crime as “harm I caused when I was just a child” really minimizes his actions as described below. He goes on. “From a legal perspective, freedom can be as elusive to a 57-year-old man who has grown and changed and done years of work as it is for the impetuous 17-year-old who made a grievous mistake.”
CFSY also wrote this post on Twitter.
“We are all more than the worst mistake we made as a teenager. If Maryland legislators pass #HB409, over 400 people who have served over 20 years in prison for crimes committed in childhood would be immediately eligible for sentence reduction. #SecondChances #SupportTheJRA” (emphasis added).
Highly aggravated crimes can not fairly be called “mistakes.” Such language implies that the perpetrators did not appreciate the consequences and/or did not intend to cause them. For the vast majority of juveniles who get long and life sentences, this is not true. The criminals were clearly aware of what they were doing and acted with disdain and/or callous disregard for the victims. Calling these acts of evil “mistakes” greatly diminishes the suffering experienced by the victims and the responsibility of the assailants.
Vicious, Not Vulnerable
Juvenile murderer advocates further manipulate by claiming that the offenders they are trying to free are “vulnerable.” CFSY writes on their website: “Children sentence[d] to life in prison without parole are often the most vulnerable members of our society. Nearly 80 percent of juvenile lifers reported witnessing violence in their homes; more than half (54.1%) witnessed weekly violence in their neighborhoods” (emphasis added).
It is an absolute joke to claim that perpetrators of the most severe offenses possible are “vulnerable.” Vulnerability means susceptibility to harm. These brutal killers are exactly the opposite–they are the ones inflicting harm upon others. Not only are they causing harm, they are causing what is legally recognized as the most egregious type of harm possible. Oftentimes, these murderers take advantage of the vulnerable. For example, both Johnny Freeman and Chris Segerstrom lured preschool-aged girls before raping and murdering them. Claiming that these murderers are vulnerable is just another way of making them into the victims. All while ignoring the actual victims. It is tragic when one grows up witnessing violence in their home and/or neighborhood. But this does not give them a license to inflict devastating harm onto innocent people.
The Real Victims
Advocates of juvenile murderers also try to paint perpetrators as victims by claiming that the perpetrators themselves were harmed by their crimes. For example, John C. Rush wrote in a pro-Ohio SB 256 op-ed titled “End life sentences with no parole for juveniles, “no child should be locked away based on the worst moment of their young lives without regard for their potential to rehabilitate and change” (emphasis added). Hear that? These crimes are the worst moments of the criminals’ lives. Forget about the people they victimized. The criminals are really the victims of their own crimes. This is just inaccurate. Vicious crimes are the worst moments of the victims’ lives. The criminals, on the other hand, usually don’t suffer due to the crimes themselves. Their only punishment is getting caught. They do not experience the worst moments of their lives when they commit these crimes. In fact, as we point out in our response letter, some juvenile criminals experience some of the best moments of their lives when they commit their crimes, as they enjoy committing them. For murderers like Daniel Marsh and David Biro, the thrill the crimes gave them was the point of committing them.
Six Foot 175-Pound “Children”
One of the favorite buzzwords among juvenile killer advocates is “children.” Listen to them speak or read their propaganda and you will notice a deceitful and extremely hurtful pattern. They almost always refer to juvenile criminals as “children” rather than juveniles, youth, or minors. According to these activists, a six-foot 200 pound 17-year-old is a “child.” Consider the absurdity of that.
On this page, we fully explain why it is inappropriate and deceitful to call juvenile killers “children.” Here, I will focus specifically on how the term hurts victims. And it does very deeply hurt victims.
First, this term is extremely inaccurate. Juvenile offenders who get long and life sentences cannot appropriately be called “children” in terms of age. The vast majority of juveniles sentenced to LWOP are older teens nearing legal adulthood. About half were 17 when they committed the crimes for which they received LWOP. Most of the rest were 16 while some were 14 or 15. In contrast, the term “children” generally refers to minors who have not yet hit adolescence.
The terms “juvenile” and “minor” are more accurate to use when referring to teens between the ages of 14 and 17. But opponents of life and long-term sentences for juvenile murderers call them “children” because that term is emotional and makes people more supportive of, sympathetic to, and protective of them, as people are naturally supportive of, sympathetic to, and protective of actual children.
The buzzword “child” is also associated with innocence, vulnerability, and other characteristics of actual children. These characteristics, however, are not found in teenagers who commit highly aggravated murders, making this term extremely inaccurate. The term “child” puts in mind the image of an elementary school-aged child or at oldest a pre-teen who made a mistake due to their young age rather than a 16 or 17-year-old who committed an aggravated murder or several aggravated murders.
As stated by Barb Van Bogelen: “Childhood is defined by actions. Black was living with her boyfriend across the state from her parents. She murdered my husband for joy and financial gain. Her actions were not childlike. There is nothing vulnerable or innocent about her.” Consider the examples of juvenile murderers given above, plus the many more on our offender and memorial pages. Consider the brutal details. Does the word “child” paint an accurate image of them?
Imagine if you were the victim of one of the criminals described above. As they are kidnapping, raping, and/or robbing you would you think to yourself, “this is just a child, I have nothing to worry about”? As they are killing you would you think that? You would not. You would recognize the reality that the offender is a violent teenager who is inflicting great harm upon you for their own benefit. Imagine if your family member was one of their victims and you were seeing the killer in court. Would you think, “this guy who raped my daughter and stabbed her 29 times with a screwdriver is just a child”? Of course not.
Advocates of juvenile murderers are exploiting the natural urge we have to protect and care for actual children. This is ironic, given the fact that many victims of juvenile murderers actually were children.
Jessica Ridgeway was a 10-year-old child when she was kidnapped and strangled and drowned to death by Austin Sigg, a 17-year-old who extensively planned and carried out the murder to fulfill a sexual fantasy.
Kristyanna Cowan and Brittney Bergeron were three and 10-year-old children when they were stabbed by 16 and 19-year-old siblings who paralyzed Brittany and killed Kristyanna.
Calling the teenage killers of these children “children” is very hurtful towards the child victims’ families. While advocates of juvenile offenders claim they are helping “children” they are really doing the opposite.
Calling teenage murderers “children” and therefore manipulating people into supporting them and associating them with characteristics of actual children is cruel and insensitive to their victims. Imagine your own child was the victim of a heinous murder. How would you feel about the murderer being painted as an innocent child?
For victims, seeing the evil criminals who ruined their lives being so outrageously and egregiously misrepresented is beyond hurtful. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins told me that what upsets her most about the use of the word “child” is that it creates a “misrepresentation as to the character, intent, and culpability, of the man who murdered my sister, her husband, and their baby.”
This highly deceitful term is outrageous and offensive. NOVJM has repeatedly asked juvenile offender advocates not to hurt victims by using it. But they have refused and to this day are constantly throwing this term around to manipulate people into supporting their cause.
Juvenile murderer advocates also manipulate by claiming that these killers are “justice-involved youth” or “justice-involved children.” The “justice” part means the justice system.
And though murderers may be involved in the justice system due to their choices, they are not involved in justice. There’s a difference between justice and the justice system. Justice is the maintenance or administration of what is fair and right whereas the justice system is a system that addresses and responds to crimes and tries to seek justice.
Murder is an injustice. Not only that, it is legally recognized as the greatest injustice there is. People who commit murder are not involved in justice–just the opposite, they are involved in the worst kind of injustice possible. Yet this laughable term makes it sound like the murderers were involved in justice.
The term “justice-involved” also diminishes the crimes by implying that the criminals simply got “involved” with the justice system. They didn’t actually do anything to get involved in the system. This takes away the criminals’ agency.
Portraying murderers and other violent criminals as justice-involved children who simply got involved with the system is very hurtful and insensitive to the victims whose lives were taken or forever altered by those criminals. One who commits a murder is a murderer. One who commits a rape is a rapist. One who inflicts horrific suffering and injustice upon an innocent person by committing a serious crime is an injustice-involved criminal. No matter how many times teen killer advocates try to minimize the crimes by using euphemisms like “justice-involved youth”, these facts won’t change.
Juvenile offender advocates not only use manipulative buzzwords to describe criminals, but they also use manipulative buzzwords to describe life sentences as well. They attempt to guilt people into opposing life sentences for the worst juvenile killers by claiming that such sentences are really “death in prison” sentences rather than life sentences.
First, this buzzword is inaccurate. Offenders who get LWOP are not sent to prison to die. We don’t lock them in a cage, deny them food and water, and wait for them to perish. When they go to prison, they get to live–something their dead victims can’t do. They are provided with food, water, and clothing. They can read, write, watch T.V., visit with people, and do many other things that their dead victims can’t. The only people with death sentences are the dead victims. Inaccurately claiming that death sentences are being given to the killers who imposed actual death sentences is very cruel and insensitive. Especially when the person making the claim disregards the victims’ deaths and brushes them off as “mistakes” made by “children.” This is just another way of turning the perpetrators into victims whilst ignoring the real victims.
To promote their agenda of freeing teen killers, juvenile offender advocates use photographs of children as young as six in their publications and on their websites. In at least one case, offender advocates used a painting of very young children to promote legislation in Maryland. These photographs and images are perhaps the most outrageous, offensive, and cruel of all the propaganda that juvenile offender advocates use.
Again, most juveniles who get LWOP were 16 or 17 when they committed their crimes. They are all murderers and most of the murders they committed were aggravated. In terms of age alone, pictures of six-year-olds do not represent them. In terms of innocence and criminal culpability, these pictures certainly do not represent them. The culpability of a 17-year-old who commits aggravated murder is not represented by a scared-looking innocent cute six-year-old.
Advocates of juvenile murderers use these propagandistic pictures to minimize the culpability of the murderers they are trying to free. They want us to think of evil 17-year-old murderers as being innocent little kindergartners. One can only understand this type of shameful propaganda by seeing it. Below are just some examples.
Examples of Propaganda
Propaganda from the Equal Justice Initiative
This appears to be a photograph of a child (maybe eight or nine) getting his fingerprints taken during a tour of a police station.
This is probably meant to represent a juvenile defendant with a life sentence saying goodbye to his family.
Acknowledgments on page 37
Notice the baggy pants and the distressed look.
Propaganda by the University of San Francisco School of Law
Propaganda by the Players Coalition
The Players Coalition supports Ohio SB 256. These are some propaganda pictures they used to promote the bill. Remember that in Ohio, one must be at least 14 to be tried in adult court. Most of the criminals whose sentences were reduced by 256 were 16 or 17 when they committed their crimes.
The Player’s Coalition has also used propaganda artwork to promote Maryland HB 409/SB 494.
While the above propaganda image is a painting rather than a photograph, it sends the same deceptive false message that elementary school-aged children are getting LWOP. This is a good painting but it should not be used in such a propagandistic manner.
More examples of propaganda images can be found on this page.
Conclusion on Propaganda Pictures
This is blatant propaganda. These pictures do not accurately represent 17-year-old murderers. It is beyond hurtful for victims to see the brutal killers who took their loved ones’ lives and ruined their lives being portrayed like this.
Lies About Specific Cases
Advocates of freeing juvenile murderers don’t just lie about juvenile killers as a whole. They also lie about and minimize specific crimes. We list some examples of this on a website page. I will give just one example to illustrate the point. First, here are the horrifying and brutal facts of this case from my other article. In 1989, in Middletown, Delaware, Donald Torres, 14, murdered Harry and Jennifer Godt and their two children, four-year-old Jon and one-and-a-half-year-old Samantha. Torres, who had befriended the Godt family, became angry when Harry scolded him for teaching Jon to play with matches.
Around midnight on February 24, Torres broke into the family’s home and spread kerosene over the kitchen floor and the stairway leading to the bedrooms. He then ignited the kerosene with a lighter and some newspaper. He went outside and watched as the fire spread. He saw Harry run out of the house screaming and then re-enter to save his family. Torres later admitted that he knew the family was in the home when he set it ablaze. Torres murdered all four members of the Godt family.
EJI represented and tried to free this arsonist mass murderer. They wrote this article on him. While EJI gives many details about Torres’s background in an attempt to mitigate the fiery murders he committed, they offer very little detail about the crime that got him LWOP in the first place. They write: “EJI represents Donald Torres, who was sentenced to die in prison in Delaware for an offense that occurred when he was just fourteen years old.” An offense did not occur when Torres was 14. An offense was committed when he was 14. And it was committed by Torres. This was not an accident that randomly occurred. Torres intentionally poured kerosene around the house, set the house on fire while the victims were inside, and then watched as it burned down.
The misrepresentation continues. “At age fourteen, Donald Torres was arrested for his involvement in an arson in which four people died. He was tried as an adult, convicted of murder, and received a mandatory sentence to die in prison.” Torres was not simply “involved” in the offense. He was not a getaway driver. He did not supply the matches and kerosene without knowledge of what they would be used for. He did not help to hide the murderer after the fact. In the criminal justice system, Torres is considered a principal, one who directly participates in and is responsible for the crime.
EJI also completely glosses over the details of the murders. All we know from reading their post is that four people died in an arson case. They do not tell us that two of those people were children. EJI is fine with calling Torres and other teenage murderers “children” but declines to acknowledge the fact that Torres murdered actual one and four-year-old children, denying them the ability to even see their fifth birthdays. They also decline to tell readers how those four people died. Readers learn all about Torres’s experiences with dysfunction and violence while growing up. But they do not learn about the severe suffering he inflicted on his victims by burning them alive. And finally, the Godt family did not just “die”. They were killed. By Torres. And Torres’s killings of the Godts were illegal. That means they were murders. And they were very fiery murders.
This is an example of juvenile offender advocates using deceitful language to minimize a crime. At least they didn’t outright lie about the murders. And they lie about juvenile murderers all the time.
The EJI wrote in a report: “At 14, Ashley tried to escape the violence and abuse by running away with an older boyfriend who shot and killed her grandfather and aunt. Her grandmother and sister, who were injured during the offense, want Ashley to come home.”
This is just false. Here is the truth as found by the judge.
Ashley Jones and her 10-year-old sister Mary Jones had been sent to live with their grandparents Mary and Deroy Nalls and aunt Millie Nalls after Jones stabbed her father and pregnant mother. Jones and her 16-year-old boyfriend Geramie Hart decided to murder everyone in the house, set it on fire, and take their money.
On August 30, 1999, Jones and Hart put their plan into action. Jones let Hart into the house and they sneaked into the den where Deroy was watching T.V. Hart shot him twice in the face. Jones and Hart then went to Millie’s bedroom and shot her three times. When Jones saw that her aunt was still alive and breathing, she hit her on the head with a portable heater, stabbed her in the chest, and tried to set the room on fire. Jones and Hart then went to her grandmother’s bedroom and shot her in the shoulder.
Jones and Hart then went back to the den where they found that Deroy was still alive. They stabbed him several times with knives from the kitchen. Jones poured charcoal lighter fluid on him and set him on fire, burning him alive. Jones then stabbed Mary Nalls in the face with an ice pick, poured lighter fluid on her, set her on fire, and watched her burn alive.
When Jones’s sister tried to leave Jones grabbed and punched her. Hart shoved a pistol in her face and threatened to shoot her but Jones insisted, “no, let me do it.” She then stabbed her sister 14 times, stopping only after the girl pretended to be dead. Jones and Hart set the house on fire, stole money, and went off for a night of partying.
Later, when Jones learned that her sister had survived, she said, “I thought I killed that bitch.” The attack left Jones’s grandmother and sister severely injured. The grandmother suffered burns on one-third of her body. Those are the facts as found by the judge. The EJI outright lied about this double murder on page 25 of a report titled Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13 and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison.
“Ashley Jones is the only girl in Alabama sentenced to death in prison for an offense when she was 14 years old. From the time she was an infant, Ashley was terrorized by abusive and violent adults. Her addicted mother abandoned Ashley in crack houses while she was still in diapers and on several occasions threatened her at gunpoint. Her father assaulted her, resulting in a hospitalization. Her stepfather sexually assaulted her when she was 11. Relentless violence in her home left Ashley depressed, traumatized, and suicidal. At 14, Ashley tried to escape the violence and abuse by running away with an older boyfriend who shot and killed her grandfather and aunt. Her grandmother and sister, who were injured during the offense, want Ashley to come home. But Alabama’s mandatory sentencing law does not recognize mitigation, mercy, or the abusive dysfunction that lead to her crime. Instead, it condemns Ashley to die in prison despite the fact that today, at 22, she has matured into a remarkable young woman who is incredibly bright and promising.”
The alleged abuse Jones experienced is horrific. But her history of abuse did not make her unable to understand that murdering her entire family was wrong. This was a calculated crime and Jones had plenty of time to think about it. And regardless of Jones’s history, there is no excuse for the EJI’s lies.
Lies spread by anti-juvenile LWOP activists have managed to free at least one murderer. Her name is Cyntoia Brown. She has become a cause celeb among the juvenile killer advocates, who claim that she shot and killed her abusive sex trafficker when she thought he was reaching for a gun. Their lies are fully debunked on this page.
To summarize, Brown shot and killed Johnny Allen as he slept for the purpose of robbing him and, in her own words, “just to see how it felt to kill somebody.” Johnny Allen picked her up. He may have been a john who was soliciting her or, as his family believes, a concerned citizen who wanted to help a girl he understood to be homeless. It really doesn’t make a difference when you consider the evidence. Johnny was found lying on his side with his arms folded and his fingers interlocked, showing that he had been asleep when he was shot.
After murdering him, Brown tried to get a neighbor to drive her back to Johnny’s house so she could steal more items. She told this neighbor, “I shot somebody in the head last night and blew his brains out.” She also told him that the killing was a “fat lick” (robbery) and that she had been “waiting on a lick like that all week”. She also laughed and joked about the murder over the phone and told her adoptive mother that she “executed” Johnny. Brown physically attacked a nurse and yelled, “I shot that man in the back of the head, and bitch, I’m gonna shoot you three times in the back of the head and would love to see your blood splatter on the wall”. She also admitted to several jail cellmates that she killed Johnny “just to see how it felt to kill somebody.” Brown gave one cellmate a note which said “everything is the truth, I swear it on my life except for ‘I thought he was getting a gun’ and the feeling of nervousness.” A forensic document examiner verified that Brown had written it.
Brown is now a cause celeb and advocates for making other juvenile killers eligible for parole. She testified in favor of an anti-JLWOP bill before the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee.
This isn’t surprising. Many anti-JLWOP activists are themselves convicted killers. Think about that. They killed people. They now hurt murder victims’ families to advocate for the freedom of other killers. When an offender like Brown is willing to lie about their crime, minimize their culpability, profit off their crime, and harm more victims, that shows that they are not remorseful.
Many of the advocates of ending juvenile LWOP, particularly the leaders and higher-ups, hurt the victims of those they are trying to free. They deny justice, force victims to relive the crimes, and use hurtful propaganda. They also refuse to minimize the suffering their laws inflict upon us by simply notifying us beforehand. The actions taken by juvenile murderer advocates are a window into their thoughts about us. Based on their actions, we can assume that many anti-JLWOP advocates have little to no concern for the victims of the criminals they want to free.
By severely mistreating victims, the message many offender advocates send is this: victims don’t matter. Their well-being and their rights are less important than the freedom of the perpetrators who harmed them. Offender advocates believe that it is OK for them to mistreat, re-victimize, and torment victims, so long as they achieve their ultimate goal–freeing criminals who have committed horrific crimes. Well, it’s not OK. It’s not OK to deny justice to victims. It’s not OK to force them to re-live the crimes. It’s not OK to devalue them and minimize the crimes committed against them. Victims matter. They were the people who were injured–not the perpetrators. The perpetrators are the ones who inflicted the injuries upon the victims. They acted in the wrong and chose to get themselves in the situations they are in. The victims did not. By writing this, I hope to expose the horrific nature of a powerful and well-funded movement. And I hope to give victims the voice they deserve and the voice the world needs to listen to.
Roper v. Simmons and the murder of Shirley Crook
Supreme Court decisions on the sentencing of juvenile criminals
Number of “juvenile lifers”
Ages of juvenile lifers
Daniel Laplante’s murder of the Gustafson family
A moral argument for juvenile LWOP
Funding of the movement to free juvenile killers
Chris Segerstrom’s murder of Barbara Thompson
Elizabeth Lozano’s murder of Tayde Vasquez
Tony Raman Nose’s murder of Jolene Stuedemann
Debunking the “second chance” buzzword
Jimmy Cotaling’s sister Jodi points out that murder victims don’t get second chances
Billy Shafer’s satanic sacrifice of Sara West
Chad Kitchell’s murder of Robin Richardson
Rape suspect allegedly kills accuser
Murder of Becky Hauser
Richard Baldwin’s murder of Beth Brodie
Scott Darnell’s murder of Vicki Larson
Murder of Robert Goyette
Murder of Jennifer Boleander
Phillip Chism’s murder of Colleen Ritzer
Edward Kindt’s murder of Penny Brown
Murder of Officer Lyle Wohlers
Michael Woodmansee’s murder of Jason Foreman
State laws that hurt victims
Oregon SB 1008 https://ojrc.info/youthjusticeproject
Ohio SB 256
Pennsylvania HB 1999
CFSY supports HB 1999 https://www.scribd.com/doc/35419351/FairSentencing-JLWOP080410
Brian Bahr’s murder of Danni Romig
Fight for Lifers West wants to end all LWOP
Activists in Pennsylvania want juvenile killers to be freed after 10 years
New Mexico SB 247
Nathaniel Jouett, Clovis-Carver Library mass shooter
The ACLU suggests freeing juvenile killers after 10 years and banning the practice of trying juveniles as adults
Organizations that filed amicus briefs in OG v. The Superior Court https://www.courts.ca.gov/44756.htm
Daniel Marsh’s murder of Claudia Maupin and Chip Northup
Keymontae Lindsey’s murder of JJ Clavo
Sierra Brown and Uniek Atkins Case
The Equal Justice Initiative horrifically mistreats victims
David Biro’s murder of the Langert family
Ralph Cruz Jr.’s murder of the Bojorquez family
De’ Marquise Elkins’s murder of Antonio Santiago
Johnny Freeman’s murder of Shavanna McCann
Laurence Lovette’s murder of Eve Carson
Propaganda promoted by Bryan Stevenson’s book
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This is overall a good book. Stevenson has done great things such as getting innocent people out of prison. But Just Mercy also has outrageous pro-juvenile killer propaganda.
Propaganda in a Columbus Dispatch op-ed by a CFSY activist
Column: Abolish life without parole for young offenders https://www.dispatch.com/story/opinion/columns/2020/09/15/column-abolish-life-without-parole-for-young-offenders/114028396/
CFSY calls crimes “mistakes” on twitter
CFSY calls juvenile lifers vulnerable
Pro-Ohio SB 256 op-ed says the crimes are the worst moments of the criminals’ lives
NOVJM responded to the pro-SB 256 op-ed with this letter
Juvenile criminals are not “children”
Actual children murdered by juveniles
Jose Arredondo’s murder of Katherina Cardenas
Alyssa Bustamente’s murder of Elizabeth Olten
Austin Sigg’s murder of Jessica Ridgeway
Monique Maestas’s murder of Kristyanna Cowan
Juvenile murderers are not “justice involved”
Juvenile offender advocates lie about specific cases
EJI minimizes Donald Torres’s murder of the Godt family
EJI lies about Ashley Jones’s murder of her family members
The lie can be found on page 25 of a report titled “Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13 and 14-year-old Children to Die in Prison” https://eji.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/cruel-and-unusual.pdf
The truth about Cyntoia Brown’s murder of Johnny Allen
Cyntoia Brown advocates for the freedom of other teen killers