Maryland SB 494/HB 409 Testimony

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

Dear Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee,

We are the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM).[1] We represent about 370 victims around the country who have lost loved ones to juvenile killers. We are grateful for this opportunity to submit testimony regarding Senate Bill 494.

We understand that the criminal justice system is not perfect and needs reform. We oppose over-sentencing offenders to prison terms that are grossly disproportionate when compared to their crimes. And we recognize that most juvenile offenders have the capacity to reform. However, some juvenile crimes may warrant life without parole (LWOP).

Juvenile offender advocates often decline to acknowledge the brutal reality of some crimes committed by juveniles. They portray all juvenile crimes as simply being “mistakes” made due to impaired judgment. They further minimize juvenile offenders’ culpability by referring to them as “children” and by using other hurtful tactics.[2] But contrary to these advocates’ claims, some juveniles commit acts of wanton cruelty with full knowledge of the results of their actions and with the intention to bring about those results. We will list just two of many examples to illustrate the point. 

  • When Priscilla Gustafson and her two children returned to their home they were confronted by Daniel Laplante. Laplante, 17, had broken into their home while they were away. Laplante first tied Priscilla to the bed and raped her. He then shot the pregnant nursery school teacher twice in the head. Next, he drowned Priscilla’s two children, five-year-old William and seven-year-old Abigail in bathtubs.[3]
  • Johnny Freeman enticed five-year-old Shavanna McCann with candy and lured her to a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of a housing project. Once in the apartment, Freeman, who was three months away from his 18th birthday, raped little Shavanna. Freeman then tried to kill Shavanna by throwing her out the 14th story window. But Shavanna was brave and held onto the window’s ledge with her fingertips. The terrified child screamed for her mother. But she didn’t have a chance. She was stuck between a 14 story drop and a rapist who wanted to murder her. Freeman pried her fingers off the window ledge. This time Shavanna was not able to hold on to anything. The young child plunged 14 stories to her death on the hard ground below.[4]

Most victims who lose loved ones in such horrific ways oppose the release of the killers. To fight release, they speak up at hearings to be a voice for their dead family members who cannot speak for themselves. This forces them to relive the murders. Conditions suffered as a result of the murders, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, flare up and they suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms. Traumatizing criminal justice hearings should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to be heard. We ask that lawmakers consider victims when making decisions that will impact us.

[1] http://www.teenkillers.org/

[2] Most juveniles who get LWOP were 16 or 17 when they committed the offenses. They were not “children.” See http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/teen-killers-are-not-children/ Juvenile offender advocates also use pictures of children as young as six in their publications. See http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/the-propaganda-campaign/ This is extremely insensitive and offensive to victims.

[3] http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/massachusetts-offenders/daniel-laplante/

[4] http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/illinois-victims/shavanna-mccann/

Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and ProcedureWritten

Dear Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure,

We are the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM).[1] We represent about 380 victims around the country who have lost loved ones to juvenile killers. We are grateful for this opportunity to submit testimony regarding Senate Bill 494.

We understand that the criminal justice system is not perfect and needs reform. We oppose over-sentencing offenders to prison terms that are grossly disproportionate when compared to their crimes. And we recognize that most juvenile offenders are capable of reform. However, some juvenile crimes may warrant life without parole (LWOP).

Juvenile offender advocates often decline to acknowledge the brutal reality of some crimes committed by juveniles. They portray all juvenile crimes as simply being “mistakes” made due to impaired judgment. They further minimize juvenile offenders’ culpability by referring to them as “children” and by using other hurtful tactics.[2] But contrary to these advocates’ claims, some juveniles commit acts of wanton cruelty with full knowledge of the results of their actions and intending to bring about those results. We will list just two of many examples to illustrate the point. 

  • When Priscilla Gustafson and her two children returned to their home they were confronted by Daniel Laplante. Laplante, 17, had broken into their home while they were away. Laplante first tied Priscilla to the bed and raped her. He then shot the pregnant nursery school teacher twice in the head. Next, he drowned Priscilla’s two children, five-year-old William and seven-year-old Abigail in bathtubs.[3]
  • Johnny Freeman enticed five-year-old Shavanna McCann with candy and lured her to a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of a housing project. Once in the apartment, Freeman, who was three months away from his 18th birthday, raped little Shavanna. Freeman then tried to kill Shavanna by throwing her out the 14th story window. But Shavanna was brave and held onto the window’s ledge with her fingertips. The terrified child screamed for her mother. But she didn’t have a chance. She was stuck between a 14 story drop and a rapist who wanted to murder her. Freeman pried her fingers off the window ledge. This time Shavanna was not able to hold on to anything. The young child plunged 14 stories to her death on the hard ground below.[4]

Most victims who lose loved ones in such horrific ways oppose the release of the killers. To fight release, they speak up at hearings to be a voice for their dead family members who cannot speak for themselves. This forces them to relive the murders. Conditions suffered as a result of the murders, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, flare up and they suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms.

Traumatizing criminal justice hearings should be kept to an absolute minimum. SB 494 would give juvenile offenders like Laplante and Freeman three judicial reviews in addition to several parole hearings. Because SB 494 would prohibit the assailants from receiving LWOP, they would instead be sentenced to life with parole.  Under current Maryland law, one with a life with parole sentence is eligible for their first parole hearing after 15 years or even 11 ½ years with good behavior. Thus, juvenile murderers with life sentences would be entitled to parole hearings after 11 ½ or 15 years, plus subsequent parole hearings, a judicial review after 20 years, another judicial review after 23 years, and another judicial review after 26 years. Within 26 years, victims in cases involving one juvenile assailant may endure four or five hearings. Victims in cases involving several juvenile criminals would be re-traumatized even more times.  For example, police officer Amy Caprio was murdered by four juveniles. Under SB 494, her family would re-live the murder at up to 20 different hearings within 26 years.

Proponents talk a lot about “second chances.” But as SB 494 currently stands, juvenile felons, including those responsible for horrific crimes, could get four or five chances in 26 years. Meanwhile, their dead victims, who committed no crimes, are denied even one chance. NOVJM requests that the number of traumatizing parole hearings and judicial reviews is cut back. For example, give the offenders parole eligibility in addition to at least one judicial review. After the first judicial review, allow a judge to deny subsequent reviews without a hearing.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to be heard. We ask that lawmakers consider victims when making decisions that will impact us.

[1] http://www.teenkillers.org/

[2] Most juveniles who get LWOP were 16 or 17 when they committed the offenses. They were not “children.” See http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/teen-killers-are-not-children/ Juvenile offender advocates also use pictures of children as young as six in their publications. See http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/the-propaganda-campaign/ This is extremely insensitive and offensive to victims. Other hurtful tactics used by offender advocates are discussed here http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/how-the-movement-to-free-teen-killers-hurts-victims/.

[3] http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/massachusetts-offenders/daniel-laplante/

[4] http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/illinois-victims/shavanna-mccann/

Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure–Oral

Thank you everyone. I am an activist with the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. We have some concerns with the current version and how it will impact victims. First, let me just say that we agree that most juvenile offenders can reform and certainly do not deserve to go to prison for life. But in some cases, we believe that life and long sentences are appropriate. 

Juvenile offender advocates often decline to acknowledge the brutal reality of some juvenile crimes. The reality is that some juveniles commit evil crimes with full knowledge of the results of their actions and with the intention to bring about those results. I will list just 2 of many juvenile criminals who meet this description.  

  • The first example is Daniel Laplante from Massachusetts. When he was 17 he invaded the Gustafson family’s home while they were away. Priscilla Gustafson and her 2 children returned to their home while Laplante was still burglarizing it. And from there, everything went really really bad for the Gustafsons. Laplante tied Priscilla to the bed and raped her. He then shot her twice in the head. She was pregnant, so he killed her and her unborn baby. Then he murdered 5-year-old William and 7-year-old Abigail by drowning them in bathtubs. 
  • The next example is Johnny Freeman from Chicago. He committed his crime when he was 3 months away from his 18th birthday. He enticed 5-year-old Shavanna McCann with candy and lured her to a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of a housing project. There, he raped the 5-year-old child. Freeman then tried to kill Shavanna by throwing her out the 14th story window. But Shavanna was brave and held onto the window’s ledge with her fingertips. She screamed for her mother. But she didn’t have a chance. She was stuck between a 14 story drop and a rapist who wanted to murder her. Freeman peeled her fingers off the window ledge and shoved her again. This time Shavanna was not able to hold on to anything. The young child plunged 14 stories to her death on the hard ground below. 

Many victims who lose loved ones in such horrific ways oppose the release of the killers. To fight release, they speak up at hearings to be a voice for their dead family members who cannot speak for themselves. This forces them to relive the murders. Conditions suffered as a result of the murders, such as PTSD, flare up and they suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms.

Traumatizing criminal justice hearings should be kept to an absolute minimum. 

Our problem with it as it is currently written is that it gives murderers a lot of chances to be released. In Maryland someone with a life with parole sentence gets a parole hearing after 15 years or 11 ½ years with good behavior. And if they don’t get out then they can get more parole hearings. In addition to those parole hearings, they would get 3 judicial reviews after 20 years with each review being 3 years apart. So in 26 years a victim could go through 4 or 5 hearings just for one offender. Victims of multiple juveniles would go through even more hearings. For example, police officer Amy Caprio was murdered by 4 juveniles. Her family would re-live the murder at up to 20 different hearings within 26 years.

The proponents talk a lot about “second chances.” But this bill gives much more than a second chance. It gives violent felons 3, 4, 5, or more chances. Meanwhile, their dead victims, who committed no crimes, are denied even one chance. NOVJM requests that the number of traumatizing parole hearings and judicial reviews be cut back. 

Thank you very much.