Below is some of the written testimony we submitted from our organization.
We are the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). We represent nearly 400 victims around the country who have lost loved ones to juvenile killers. We strongly oppose House Bill 424, as it would severely harm crime victims.
We understand that the criminal justice system is not perfect and needs reform. We oppose over-sentencing offenders to prison terms that are disproportionate to their crimes. And we recognize that most juvenile offenders are capable of reform. However, some juvenile crimes warrant life without parole (LWOP).
The Brutal Reality of Some Juvenile Crimes
To promote their agenda, juvenile offender advocates portray all juvenile crimes as simply being “mistakes” made due to impaired judgment and under-developed brains. However, some juveniles commit heinous crimes with a complete understanding of the results and with the desire to bring about those results. We will list just some examples.
· Joseph Jones, 13, Harold Jones, 16, and Dorthia Bynum, 17, lured 10-year-old Tiffany Long to a vacant house where they gang-raped her. The assailants murdered Tiffany by beating her on the head with a wooden bed rail and strangling her with a wire.
· Laurence Lovette, 17, and Demario Atwater, 21, abducted UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson at gunpoint. Lovette drove while Atwater held a gun to Eve’s head in the back of the vehicle. The kidnappers drove 22-year-old Eve to ATMs and robbed her. As Eve was being held hostage and terrorized at gunpoint in her own car, she repeatedly begged for her life, telling her captors that they could take whatever they wanted and that they did not need to kill her. She tried to reason with the armed assailants, telling them that they did not have to commit these crimes. But Lovette and Atwater showed no mercy. To eliminate Eve as a witness, they murdered her. When Eve realized that Atwater and Lovette were about to kill her she tried again to reason with them and asked them to “Pray with me.” Lovette shot Eve four times, including in the face, with a .25 caliber handgun. Atwater then shot her in the temple 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.”
· De Marquise Elkins, 17, and Dominique Lang, 15, attacked Sherry West as she strolled her 13-month-old son Antonio Santiago. Elkins pointed a gun at the mother and child and demanded money. When Sherry, who had no money to give them, did not comply, Elkins threatened to kill Antonio. Sherry begged for her baby’s life. Elkins callously disregarded the mother’s pleas and shot her in the leg. He then shot Antonio in the face and killed him.
· Kendrick Morris, 16, attacked Queena Vuong as she dropped off books at a library. He raped her and beat her nearly to death. Though Queena, 18, miraculously survived, she was left paralyzed, blind, and unable to speak.
The idea that a 17-year-old does not understand the wrongfulness of executing a baby in front of his mother or gang-raping and murdering a 10-year-old is asinine. LWOP is not a disproportionate sentence for such evil crimes. HB 424 would allow criminals like those described above to be paroled after 15-25 years and live unfettered lives from their 30s or 40s onward all while their victims remain dead or severely injured. This would be a complete abortion of justice. Stating that crimes like these only warrant 15-25 years demeans them and devalues the victims.
The Culpability Myth
Juvenile offender advocates point to the typical traits associated with youth–impulsivity, immaturity, recklessness, and failure to appreciate consequences. NOVJM does not deny that these traits are common among youth. But that does not mean they are involved in all juvenile crimes. Laurence Lovette’s execution-style murder of Eve Carson is a perfect example. The crime was not impulsive–it was extensively planned ahead of time. Lovette was not under peer pressure. As noted by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in a decision affirming Lovette’s sentence: “Defendant appears to have led his older co-defendant, Demario Atwater, through the commission of the crimes.”
Lovette also did not fail to appreciate the consequences of his crimes. At 17, he completely understood how kidnapping and terrorizing Eve caused her to suffer severe mental anguish. And he completely understood that by shooting her five times, including in the head, she would die. In fact, the motive for Eve’s murder shows that consequences were considered. Atwater and Lovette knew that a consequence of kidnapping and robbing Eve was having her tell others about the crimes, identify them to police, and testify at trial. So they prevented those consequences by eliminating her as a witness.
HB 424 is Cruel to Victims
Many murder victims’ families oppose releasing the killers. To fight release, they speak up at parole hearings. The parole process is extremely traumatic. It forces victims to relive the murders. PTSD, anxiety, and other conditions flare up and they endure nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms.
The retroactive nature of HB 424 poses additional problems. The already horrific parole process is rendered more traumatizing when it comes in a shock. Retroactive sentence reductions are a cruel betrayal from the justice system. Victims were promised that the offenders would serve a certain amount of time, perhaps their lives in prison. But retroactive sentence reductions callously break those promises into a billion pieces.
HB 424 would reduce the sentences of several evil criminals at the expense of victims, who would be forced to repeatedly relive the crimes at parole hearings. HB 424 would also hurt victims by devaluing them and taking away justice. NOVJM asks that this committee not impose additional suffering onto victims and vote no on HB 424.