On December 8, 2020, Ohio’s House Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing about SB 256. Several opponents of the bill testified orally and even more submitted written testimony.
Written testimony is listed below.
Ohio coordinator written testimony
Chairman Lang, Vice Chair Plummer, Ranking Member Leland, and members of the House Criminal Justice Committee. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to provide opposition testimony on Senate Bill 256. I am the Ohio coordinator and national legislative director for the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). NOVJM represents the families of around 370 victims who have lost loved ones to juvenile murderers. NOVJM opposes Senate Bill 256, which would end life without parole (LWOP) for juveniles, because it would endanger society and traumatize victims.
We understand that the criminal justice system, like all human systems, 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, there are some offenders who are too dangerous to be released into society.
We believe that judges should have a wide range of sentencing options for juvenile murderers. A juvenile’s criminal sentence should be based on his or her specific acts and characteristics, and not simply on the general traits of people in their age group or the number of years they have lived.
Proponents of SB 256 attempt to portray all juvenile crimes as simply being the results of poor decisions made due to under-developed brains. They argue that no juvenile crime can ever warrant LWOP. As an organization made up of those whose family members were murdered by juveniles, we disagree. Juvenile LWOP (JLWOP) is a just and appropriate sentence for some juvenile crimes when one takes into account the nature of those crimes and the impact on the victims. In these rare cases, JLWOP may be necessary to protect society and to prevent victims from enduring the trauma that comes with repeated parole hearings. The US Supreme Court, while prohibiting mandatory LWOP, does allow discretionary LWOP for these rare juvenile murderers.
We do not dispute that juveniles are generally more impulsive, immature, irresponsible, susceptible to peer pressure, and poorer at assessing risks. Many juvenile crimes do reflect immaturity and poor judgment, along with disadvantaged upbringings. But juveniles constitute a large group, and not all people in that group are the same. General traits often do not apply when assessing individuals. Some juvenile crimes, rather than reflecting youth, reflect depravity and moral corruption that will not be corrected by time or age. We will list several examples to illustrate the point.
- Sixteen-year-old David Biro invaded the home of Richard Langert and his pregnant wife Nancy. When the couple returned home, Biro shot Richard in the head and then turned the gun on Nancy. Nancy cowered in the corner, begging him not to kill her baby. But Biro showed no mercy for the terrified mother-to-be and shot her in her pregnant belly. He then left Nancy and her child to die on the cold basement floor. Biro, who came from a privileged background, and lived in a three-million-dollar mansion, had been planning the thrill-killings for weeks.
- Seventeen-year-old Brian Bahr lured 12-year-old Danni Romig under a train trestle and then beat and raped her, and threw her into a river. Because water was found in her lungs, it is believed that Danni was unconscious but still alive when Bahr threw her into the river. Police later found a list the murderer had created, which consisted of “23 things to do to a girl in the woods.” Those things included stripping and raping a girl, dressing her back up, and throwing her in a river.
- Daniel Marsh, 15, invaded the home of Chip Northup, 87, and Claudia Maupin, 76. He stabbed the elderly couple to death and then disemboweled and dissected their bodies. He extensively planned the crime, wearing all black and wearing tape on his shoes so as to not leave footprints. He later described the murders as giving him the most enjoyable feeling he had ever experienced, which was heightened when the victims were conscious and resisting.
- 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 said he would throw out the trash and tried to kill Shavanna by throwing her out the 14th story window. But Shavanna was brave, and held on to 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.
- One morning, Sherry West decided to stroll her one-year-old son Antonio Santiago to the post office. As they returned home, they were confronted by two youths. The older youth, 17-year-old De Marquise Elkins, pointed a gun at Sherry and demanded money. But Sherry had none to give him. Elkins then threatened to kill Antonio. Sherry begged the robber not to kill her baby. But her pleas for mercy were callously disregarded. Elkins shot Sherry in the leg before turning the gun on Baby Antonio. Sherry tried to cover her son, but the end came anyway for Antonio. Elkins shot him in between the eyes at point-blank range, murdering the infant execution-style.
These crimes were not youthful indiscretions or childhood mistakes made due to underdeveloped brains. They were evil acts committed by criminals who were fully aware of the consequences and who acted with callous disregard for the victims’ lives. The idea that a 17-year-old does not fully understand the wrongfulness of crimes like these is asinine. To suggest that LWOP is a cruel and unusual sentence for murderers responsible for such extreme depravity is also asinine.
In these cases, and in many others, the hallmark traits of youth, such as impulsivity, immaturity, failure to appreciate risks, and susceptibility to peer pressure, did not apply. The murderers either acted alone or were the leader of a group. They did not fail to assess the risks and consequences of their crimes. In fact, the murders of the Langert family and Claudia and Chip were thrill killings. Biro and Marsh committed these murders specifically because of the consequences and the thrills and pleasure they derived from them. Perhaps with the exception of Elkins’ murder of Baby Antonio, all the crimes were planned, calculated, and mature. For example, the trial court in Marsh’s case noted that his crime was a “highly sophisticated, extraordinary and rare crime even for the most hardened and seasoned adult criminal.” Marsh thoroughly researched how to commit the murders without getting caught. There was no DNA, footprints, or any other type of evidence at the crime scene. Had Marsh not bragged about the murders, he would never have been caught. To reduce a killer’s sentence because of the general traits of people in their age group even though none of those traits apply to them is absurd.
These crimes are not less reprehensible because the criminals had not reached their magical 18th birthdays. The suffering and terror inflicted on the victims was also not any less horrific because the criminals were not yet 18. Families of victims of juvenile murderers have just as much of a right to justice and legal finality as other murder victims’ families. They deserve compassion and support, and should not be tormented by repeated parole hearings.
Advocates of juvenile offenders might argue that we are only presenting the worst cases of juvenile crimes. But this argument is disingenuous. Anti-JLWOP advocates want all juvenile criminals, including the ones listed above, to have a chance to be released, not only those responsible for relatively less serious crimes. Often, when we bring up specific cases of particularly vicious juvenile murderers, anti-JLWOP advocates insist that making them eligible for parole doesn’t really matter, because no parole board will ever vote to release them. They will not directly address the possibility of criminals responsible for highly aggravated crimes being released, even though the laws they are advocating for would allow just that. They will also not directly address the traumatic impact on victims of having to continually appear before parole boards to describe the impact on their lives or the continual worry that their family members’ killers could be released. Advocates of juvenile criminals will not directly address these points because most people would not support ending JLWOP when faced with the brutal reality of some juvenile criminals, the impact of parole eligibility on victims, and the possibility of these criminals being released.
Under SB 256, those responsible for homicide offenses that involve one victim would be eligible for release into society after 25 years, while those who murder two victims would be eligible for parole after 30 years. This section allows for punishments that are extremely inadequate and not proportionate to some crimes. For example, a juvenile could murder two people and attempt to murder many others during a shooting spree and be eligible for release in 30 years, regardless of the number of people harmed. If SB 256 becomes law, several criminals responsible for extremely aggravated murders who are currently serving LWOP or functional LWOP sentences would be eligible for release. Some murderers who could be freed under this bill include:
- Jacob LaRosa, who attempted to rape a 94-year-old woman and beat her to death with a heavy metal flashlight.
- Devonere Simmonds, who murdered two people and attempted to murder two others during a 2013 crime spree. One of the murders involved Simmonds shooting a store clerk in the eye during a robbery, departing, and then returning to fatally shoot the wounded man in the head.
- Jordyn Wade, who murdered four people and attempted to murder one person during a home invasion robbery. Wade and his partner in crime Robert Adams took the victims hostage inside the home and robbed them. They then forced them into the basement. Adams asked Wade, “should I off (kill) them all?” Wade answered, “yes.” Adams then shot the hostages, ignoring their pleas for their lives. A 16-year-old girl was shot in the head but survived by playing dead. The survivor wrote in a letter to the court that Wade “permanently destroyed my mind, heart, and soul…. I will always have a deep, deep hatred for Jordyn Wade … it feels great his life can be taken away, the way he took my sister and father’s life.” Because Wade was not the principal offender, he would be eligible for parole after 25 years even though he was responsible for the deaths of four people. The surviving victim would be forced to repeatedly re-live the horrifying experience.
- Gavon Ramsay, who strangled a 98-year-old woman to death and then undressed and sexually abused her corpse. Ramsay was interested in serial killers and had long fantasized about raping and murdering people.
SB 256 would allow juveniles who commit non-homicide crimes to be released in 18 years, regardless of the nature of the crimes, the impact on the victims, or the number of people harmed. It would allow, for example, gang-rapists Chaz Bunch and Brandon Moore to be released. After kidnapping and gang-raping their victim, Bunch wanted to murder her. Moore shoved a gun in her mouth and threatened to harm her and her family if she told anyone about the crimes. Under SB 256, one could attempt to murder someone, leaving them with disfiguring, disabling, incapacitating or otherwise life-altering injuries, but still be eligible for parole after a mere 18 years.
We all agree that youth who make mistakes should be given second chances. But these criminals did not make the types of typical youthful mistakes that we all expect to see from our own teenage family members. We’re not talking about “boys being boys.” It doesn’t take a lot of maturity or intellectual development to understand that murder and rape are wrong. Proponents of SB 256 argue that because we do not allow minors to vote, sign contracts, get married, serve on juries, or engage in certain other activities, that we should not allow them to be sentenced to LWOP. This argument is nonsensical. It is much easier to understand the wrongfulness of murder than it is to understand how to responsibly serve on a jury or vote intelligently. One can be old enough to understand the wrongfulness of executing an infant in front of his mother or assassinating a young couple in their home but not be old enough to understand the complexities of marriage or legal contracts.
Lawmakers should fully consider who exactly could be released early, should they vote for this bill. Honestly consider the possibility of them being released into society. Would you want them as a neighbor? Would you want them living near your children or elderly parents or grandparents? If one supports giving those responsible for such serious crimes a chance to be released, they must be willing to see those criminals actually be released. If one is not comfortable with offenders responsible for such malicious and merciless crimes being released, they should not vote to make that a possibility. Proponents of SB 256 have been adamant in insisting that the bill will not guarantee the release of violent criminals, but will only guarantee a parole review. However, parole reviews themselves are often extremely traumatic for victims, as explained by several other opponents. And parole boards do not always make the right decisions. In fact, parole boards often release dangerous criminals who go on to re-offend. We should not give murderers like LaRosa and Simmonds any chances to commit more crimes in society.
Proponents of SB 256 have asked you to put yourself in the position of the juvenile criminals. We ask you to put yourself in the position of the innocent victims, who, unlike the criminals, did not choose to be in their positions. NOVJM thanks you for your attention to these comments and urges you to vote “NO” on the bill.
 “[E]ven if everything said about the adolescent brain and juvenile immaturity is generally true, why would one assume that juveniles who commit heinous crimes are typical juveniles?” Lerner, Juvenile Criminal Responsibility: Can Malice Supply the Want of Years?, 86 Tulane L. Rev. 309, 332 (2011). https://ssrn.com/abstract=1908953 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1908953 Juveniles who rape and murder are by no means “typical juveniles.” Decisions about criminal sentences for extremely rare and abnormal juveniles who commit murder should not be based on the behavior of normal juveniles.
 Proponents of SB 256 have repeatedly referred to the criminals it would free as “children.” In Ohio, JLWOP is available for 14-17-year-olds, and most juvenile lifers were older teens nearing legal adulthood, not “children.” By calling evil criminals “children,” advocates of teen killers exploit the natural urge to protect young children and manipulate people into associating the killers with child characteristics like innocence and vulnerability, none of which apply to them. See https://teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/teen-killers-are-not-children/ This deceitful language is deeply offensive to victims.
 For more examples of juvenile crimes that did not involve the hallmarks of youth see the following pages: https://teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/missouri-offenders/charles-benjamin-and-christopher-simmons/ https://teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/missouri-offenders/alyssa-bustamante/ https://teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/delaware-victims/godt-family/ https://teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/illinois-victims/victoria-larson/ https://teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/michigan-victims/sandra-nestle/ https://teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/colorado-offenders/austin-sigg/ https://teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/rhode-island-offenders/michael-woodmansee/
 Order Granting Transfer in In re Marsh, No. JD-18-332 (Yolo Sup. Ct., Oct. 24, 2018), page 5 https://www.davisenterprise.com/files/2018/10/marsh_transfer-ruling-c.pdf
 We will also note that even when a criminal displays youthful traits they still may be fully aware of the nature of the crime and the impact on the victim. For example, as explained by Dr. Morse in Brain Overclaim Syndrome: “Crimes committed impulsively, for example, are still committed consciously and intentionally” Morse, Stephen. Brain Overclaim Syndrome and Criminal Responsibility: A Diagnostic Note University of Pennsylvania Law Review,https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1116&context=faculty_scholarship (Morse 406) More about criminal culpability of juvenile criminals can be found on our website. https://teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/reading-about-culpability/ https://teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/research/
 We explain the trauma victims endure when forced to repeatedly engage with the murderers in our brief for the Supreme Court of the United States to read in the Jones v. Mississippi case.
 For example, consider the case of Queena Vuong. Queena was raped and beaten by a 16-year-old. She was beaten so severely that she was left paralyzed, blind, unable to speak, and with profound intellectual disabilities. https://www.bradenton.com/news/local/crime/article137413133.html
 “It is absurd to think that one must be mature enough to drive carefully, to drink responsibly, or to vote intelligently, in order to be mature enough to understand that murdering another human being is profoundly wrong, and to conform one’s conduct to that most minimal of all civilized standards.” Stanford v. Kentucky 492 U.S. 361.
 Moore and Bunch terrorized and raped the victim in 2001, 19 years ago. Should SB 256 pass, they could be released into society not too long from now.
 On NOVJM’s website, we document almost 100 cases of dangerous early releases. Many of these cases involve murderers being paroled and then committing more murders. Allowing killers like LaRosa and Simmonds to go before parole boards may result in similar deadly results. Ohio should not take the risk. https://teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/dangerous-early-release/
Chairman Lang, Vice Chair Plummer, Ranking Member Leland, and members of the House Criminal Justice Committee. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to give opposition testimony on Senate Bill 256.
Written testimony from NOVJM president and co-founder Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins
Chairman Lang, Vice Chair Plummer, Ranking Member Leland, and members of the House Criminal Justice Committee. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to give opposition testimony on Senate Bill 256.
I am the president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). NOVJM is dedicated to helping those whose family members were murdered by juveniles under 18. We represent hundreds of victims’ families around the country who have lost loved ones to juvenile murderers. NOVJM usually does not take positions on how specific offenders should be sentenced. We support the victims’ families’ voices. But we do believe that justice is best served by giving courts the most sentencing options possible to deal with the wide range of offenders and crimes that they face, up to and including life sentences. A wider range of sentencing options prioritizes public safety against offenders who may always remain dangerous, as psychologically we do see sometimes.
And the availability of longer sentences, where appropriate, allows victims’ families to
experience some sense of justice and a sense of legal finality, especially when the
sentencing options keep frequent re-traumatizing parole hearings to an absolute
minimum. Victims’ families suffer staggering life and health problems when having to
re-engage with those who murdered their loved ones.
NOVJM opposes SB 256 because it would unnecessarily re-traumatize victims. Victims
would be forced to endure agonizing parole hearings. Furthermore, because of the bill’s
retroactivity, many victims were never planning on or building these parole hearings
into their lives, increasing the traumatic impact. Victims often walk away from long
term and life sentences given to their loved ones’ murderers believing that their ordeals
with the criminal justice system are largely over. They do not make the preparations
necessary for parole hearings. They often don’t even register for victim notification, and then become lost to the record-keeping of the court. We believe that retroactively
reducing criminal sentences raises serious legal issues with regards to Victims’ Rights.
Additionally, there is the issue of fairness. There are some crimes committed by
juveniles that may warrant long term or life sentences due to the extreme depravity and
cruelty involved. For example:
· Sam Young, 14, kidnapped, raped, asphyxiated, and murdered eight-year-old Dhymia Woody.
· 17-year-old De Marquise Elkins and his 15-year-old accomplice attempted to rob a woman as she strolled her one-year-old son Antonio Santiago. When the mother did not comply with the robbers’ demands to give them her purse, the Elkins shot and injured her. He then intentionally shot baby Antonio in the face and killed him.
· Laurence Lovette, 17, and his 21-year-old accomplice kidnapped 22-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson at gunpoint. They held her captive at gunpoint for several hours, driving her to ATMs where they made her withdraw money and robbed her. During the ordeal, Eve tried to reason with her captors and begged for her life. But they showed no mercy and murdered her to eliminate her as a witness. When Eve realized that the kidnappers were about to kill her she made one last plea for her life, asking them to “pray with me.” But neither captor was moved by the terrified young woman’s pleas. They executed Eve with a .25 caliber handgun and a sawed-off shotgun and left her body in the street.
· Chad Kitchell, age 17 and nine months, and his 18-year-old partner
robbed a grocery store and attempted to murder everyone inside. They
shot and stabbed 12-year-old Robin Richardson to death. Kitchell’s partner shot
Robin’s mother Hazel in the neck and attempted to murder her. Robin’s sister Latrisha has submitted written testimony.
· Seventeen-year-old Johnny Freeman lured five-year-old Shavanna McCann to a vacant 14th-floor apartment in a housing project. There, he raped the child and then tried to kill her by throwing her out the window. Shavanna was brave and
managed to hold on to the edge of the window. Terrified, Shavanna dangled 14
stories above the ground and screamed for her mother. But the assailant showed
no mercy for the frightened child. He shoved her again. This time Shavanna could
not hold on to anything and plunged 14 stories to her death.
· Sixteen-year-old David Biro invaded the home of my sister Nancy and her husband Richard. When they returned home, he shot Richard in the head. My sister, who was pregnant, cowered in the basement corner, begging for her unborn child’s life. Biro showed no mercy and shot her in her pregnant belly. He then left Nancy and her baby to die on the cold basement floor. 
· Jose Arredondo, 16, kidnapped two-year-old Katherine Cardenas and raped her. He then beat and strangled her to death. 
· Michael Woodmansee, 16, kidnapped five-year-old Jason Foreman and stabbed him to death. He wrote in his journal that he ate the boy’s flesh. He was not apprehended until seven years later when he attempted to murder another boy. During the time between the murder of Jason and his capture, Woodmansee stored Jason’s bones on his dresser as trophies. 
· Fifteen-year-old Scott Darnell lured 10-year-old Vicki Larson to a cornfield with the promise of a pony. He then raped her, strangled her to death, and buried her in a pre-dug grave. 
· Seventeen-year-old Austin Sigg abducted 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway as she was walking to school. He took her to his house where he tried to strangle her to death. When little Jessica managed to survive the strangulation, he filled a bathtub with water and pushed her face into it, drowning her. Sigg then dismembered the child’s body with a saw and a razor blade and removed many of her organs and labeled them. He kept Jessica’s skull. Sigg later told police that he was fulfilling a sexual fantasy when he murdered Jessica.
Many more examples of shockingly hideous crimes committed by juveniles are listed on
We are not advocating for specific sentences for these criminals. Rather, we are
illustrating the depraved nature of many crimes committed by juveniles. These are not
youthful indiscretions. These are not childhood mistakes. These are cold-blooded highly
aggravated murders committed by offenders who understood what they were doing.
And finally, there is the issue of safety. Unfortunately, there are some people who, for
whatever reason, will always pose a risk to society. Some are diagnosed psychopaths or
sociopaths. Psychopathy and sociopathy are incurable conditions characterized by a lack
of remorse or empathy. Some of these offenders have been sentenced for crimes they
committed when they were under 18. One might say parole boards can just avoid
releasing dangerous criminals. But it is not that simple. Parole boards and judges often
make mistakes and release extremely dangerous criminals into society. In fact, studies
show that psychopaths are 2.5 times more likely to be granted conditional release than
non-psychopaths due to their skills at manipulating.
As of now, on our Dangerous Early Release page, NOVJM has documented over 90 examples of offenders, including many juvenile offenders, being given “second chances”, so to speak–being paroled early from prison, being given light sentences in juvenile court, etc.-and going on to commit more violent crimes in society.
One example is that of Kenneth McDuff (example 7 in section 3). He was 20 when he committed an especially frightening and horrific triple murder. One summer night in 1966 he kidnapped three teenagers, two boys, and one girl. He shot both boys to death. He raped the female victim and strangled her to death with a broomstick. McDuff was paroled 23 years later and went on to kidnap, rape, and murder up to seven women.
We should also address the idea that it is safe to release criminals who have “aged-out”
of crime. Yes, most offenders commit less crime with age. But there are some who continue with their criminal conduct at advanced ages. For example, Albert Flick (example 35 in section 3) was in his 70s when he stabbed a woman to death in front of her children after having been released from prison because he was deemed “too old” to be a threat. He had previously committed another similar murder, stabbing his wife to death in front of her daughter.
Thank you for considering NOVJM’s opposition to SB 256. We respectfully ask that it
not be made law. We have never ceased to be horrified by the amount of money and the
huge advocacy effort that is being put into changing juvenile murderers’ sentences with
absolutely no effort to talk about or plan for how murder victims’ families, who have
already had to endure the worst experience of anyone’s lifetime, will cope. We are
shocked by the fact that advocates of juvenile murderers leave us out in regard to
legislation that will profoundly affect our well-being and lives for decades to come. We
stand ready to offer victim family testimony, research from the scientific community,
and strategies that have worked well to balance the concerns of criminal justice reform
with those of public safety and victim re-traumatization. We deeply appreciate your
consideration of the needs of the victims’ families in at least EQUAL force that you
consider the requirements of justice for those who killed our loved ones.
 We explain the pain murder victims’ families endure when forced to repeatedly engage with the murderers in our brief for the Supreme Court of the United States in the Jones v. Mississippi case.
Written testimony from an Ohio NOVJM member
Hello, everyone, my name is Jessica Combs and I am here today to offer testimony to oppose Senate Bill 256 and share with you why this legislation is important to me and my family. I am on the Survivor Advisory Board for the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center (OCVJC). I am also a member of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). As a homicide survivor, I am speaking from personal experience after navigating what seems like a never-ending criminal justice process.
My story begins back on September 4, 2016. That was the day a police officer knocked on my door and told me what would come to change my life forever. He had come to tell me that my 16-year-old son, Ronnie Bowers III1, had been shot and I needed to get to the hospital. That night, 5 individuals hunted down my son and his friends as they left Alter-fest. They found my son backing out of a driveway and blocked him in. 3 of them, all juveniles, ran up to the car and one of them punched my son in the face through the window. My son managed to back out and proceeded to drive away to safety. One of the two remaining occupants in the other car, Kylen Gregory, also 16, stepped out of the car, pointed a gun, which he stole from his grandfather and subsequently loaded with stolen bullets, at Ronnie’s car and pulled the trigger. He was only 10 feet from Ronnie’s car. The bullet went through the back windshield and hit Ronnie in the back of the head. My son was shot while he was driving him and his friends to safety after being chased down by a car full of people, the majority of them juveniles. The shooter and his accomplices drove past my son’s car when they left the scene. They didn’t even bother to stop to check on him or to call 911. They left and tried to hide any evidence of their involvement. They just didn’t care that they hurt my son, someone they didn’t even know, someone they had never met.
Over the next 5 days I watched my son’s condition deteriorate. The bullet entered the back of his brain and was lodged in his forehead, right above his left eyebrow. I had to sit there, helpless, while Ronnie’s cerebral fluid from his brain gushed out of his nose. My 12- year-old, Ronnie’s little brother, was also in the room. Ronnie never recovered, and we had to say goodbye. I was forced to bury my 16- year-old son, something no parent should ever have to do.
Next began the court battles. 3 of the co-defendants, including the shooter, were minors. 2 of the juveniles served about 6 months in a private detention center. 6 months for cleaning off each bullet, the shell of the bullet that killed my son, the gun, & hiding all evidence. Since their release, they have both been in trouble with the law numerous times. In fact, 1 was recently in a juvenile detention facility yet again. For the shooter, Kylen Gregory, I endured years of uncertainty of whether and how he would be held accountable for murdering my child.
The law had changed twice that I am aware of concerning whether a teen would be held accountable as an adult or minor for certain crimes. I quickly learned the difference between mandatory and discretionary bind overs. An amenability hearing was held to determine if the offender would be charged as an adult or juvenile. Then the law changed, then changed back again, regarding mandatory vs discretionary bindovers for teens. This caused my family & I to endure more court hearings, and a lengthy, drawn out process. Kylen Gregory’s murder trial was pushed back & once again we were left waiting.
We had a murder trial that lasted a full week, where he stood trial as an adult. On the day of closing arguments, the judge allowed reckless homicide to be added as an option for the jury, due to the offender’s age at the time of the homicide. The jury could not reach a decision for the unclassified murder charge, so agreed to reckless homicide, which only carries a 9-36-month sentence. The jury found him guilty of a 1st degree felony, firing over a public roadway, and was hung on the remaining 6 charges, 4 of which were F2, assault with a deadly weapon.
We were now sent back to juvenile court, yet again, for another hearing to decide if the offender should serve as a juvenile or an adult. By this time, 3 years has passed & it was our 3rd time hearing testimony & our 68th time being in court for a hearing. That doesn’t include court for the accomplices.
SB 256 advocates attempt to portray juvenile killers like Gregory as themselves being victims of disadvantaged and underprivileged upbringings. This was not the case for Gregory. He was not disadvantaged. His father was very wealthy. In fact, he was able to afford some of the best defense attorneys in Ohio. After the judge sentenced him, he said, “you’re lucky your dad has a good reputation and money.”
My son’s murderer was sentenced to 11 years in prison with credit for time served. He appealed, arguing that he should have been sentenced as a juvenile. Because Gregory was so wealthy, he was able to afford the best lawyers for the appeals process, just as he was during the trial. The appeals process forced us to continue to relive the worst days over and over again.
My son’s killer was not a good kid who was misguided and made a mistake due to his young brain. He had been in trouble many times before and has continued to show no remorse. When a psychiatrist asked him if he was sorry for shooting my son, whom he’d never even met, he replied, “I didn’t kill him, God did. It’s not my fault God didn’t want him to live.” One time, I was stuck in a hallway in the courthouse with him. He looked at me and laughed and put his fingers like a gun up to his head and pretended to shoot himself. I cannot imagine facing the murderer at parole hearings. I would have to face him again. I would have to watch him laugh at me again. I would have to be tormented by him again. He murdered my son and he would continue to murder my soul.
Since my son’s murder, I can no longer work due to the amount of complex PTSD, anxiety, & depression. I have recurring nightmares, and I’m unable to go out in public by myself. I have crippling anxiety attacks. Ronnie’s life was stolen from him, & his future gone. He was 16-years-old. And because of the killer’s choices, Ronnie will never graduate high school or go to college or get married and have his own kids. Gregory not only killed my son, but he significantly harmed my other child. My son Jesse was 12 when he watched his older brother die. His big brother’s murder caused him to struggle at school and with peers. He missed lots of school due to court dates and counseling sessions. He has also had to watch the impact of his brother’s murder on his parents–the murder nearly destroyed my marriage.
Jesse is now an only child. Before Ronnie was murdered, he and Jesse shared a bedroom. We had two beds for two boys. Jesse still has the same bedroom. Only now, one bed is empty. He goes to bed every night knowing that his brother isn’t there. Jesse has a hard time talking about his brother. He is now 16 years old. Though Ronnie was his older brother, Jesse has lived longer than he did. They will never raise their kids together. Jesse’s kids will never know their uncle Ronnie. I always told Jesse, “girls and friends will come and go, but you’ll always have your brother.” But now that’s gone.
I strongly oppose Senate Bill 256! We need to honor the judge’s decision on how the offender was sentenced, and not invalidate the judge’s ruling, simply because of the offender’s age. The difference in a few months in age is arbitrary and insignificant. My son’s murder was not less horrific because the killer was under 18. The devastation this has caused for our family is also not less horrible because of the killer’s age. These offenders need to serve their original sentences. A 16 & 17-year-old knows the difference between right and wrong. Their birthday does not change the facts of the case or the facts of their crimes. If Senate Bill 256 is passed, it will undoubtedly reopen emotional wounds of the victims and their families. It will also likely increase delay in other cases, just to reopen cases that have already been decided. SB 256 would lead to profound trauma for victims’ families, who have already endured the worst pain possible. Additionally, the judges reached their decisions based on an appropriate amount of time to rehabilitate, something that a blanket decision such as the one in SB 256 fails to account for. I ask that you consider the victims and the impact this would have on them.
I’d like to thank the House Criminal Justice Committee, as well as the Ohio Prosecutors Attorney Association for the opportunity to share my story on behalf of my son, Ronnie Bowers, and for other victims throughout.
Written testimony from a Wisconsin NOVJM member
My name is Bobby Joe Williams. I am the mother of Noah Adrian Williams, who was murdered on April 6, 2018, during a home-invasion robbery. I am a member of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). My son was 18-years-old. He was a community college student and aspired to have a career either working with computers or in horticulture. He never got to have a career, or get married, or have kids. He never got to live past age 18. Because on that night in April 2018, a 17-year-old invaded his home and murdered him. The killer, Charles Martin, repeatedly stabbed my son in his neck, torso, right arm, and right hand. He also stabbed Noah’s roommate 12 times, including once in the neck. He has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Ever since Noah’s life was taken it has completely destroyed my family. My daughter Emma was 11 years old when her brother was murdered. My other children were five and three. My children had their innocence stolen and if we got word of a parole hearing we would be reliving it all every time. It would traumatize my daughter. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. The thought of the killer being free after what he did is terrible. Especially after not serving a full life sentence. It would completely shake the whole community. I don’t know if there is rehabilitation for somebody so callous and cruel. My once beautiful family is forever destroyed by the murder of my son.
The murder of my son was not some dumb youthful mistake. The killer planned the robbery home invasion for a week beforehand. If he could make a choice like that and follow through with it he had to have some determination.
Senate Bill 256 would prioritize the freedom of offenders like my son’s murderer over public safety. It would force victims like me and my family to go through agonizing parole hearings and relive the crimes. Victims deserve justice and legal finality. They should not be forced to spend their lives fighting parole. I beg you to protect victims from this trauma by voting no on SB 256.
Written testimony from a California member
Testimony from Victoria Hurd, Sacramento, California
TO: Chairman Lang, Vice Chair Plummer, Ranking Member Leland, and members of the House Criminal Justice Committee.
I am the daughter of Claudia Maupin and the stepdaughter of Chip Northup and a member of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). My mother and stepfather were murdered in their home in 2013. A juvenile named Daniel Marsh broke into their home and brutally murdered them, stabbing them both to death. Chip, 87, and my mother, 76, each suffered over 60 wounds. After murdering my mother and stepfather, Marsh disemboweled and dissected their bodies. He pulled fat out of my mother’s leg and torso and examined it. He cut open Chip’s forehead and examined it. He inserted a cell-phone into Claudia’s body cavity and a drinking glass into Chips’s body to “f*** with the people who had to investigate it.” My sister found my parent’s mutilated bodies the next day. That day Marsh also walked the streets of Davis, CA with a baseball bat looking for his next victim.
My parents were gruesomely tortured, murdered, and eviscerated on a cool spring night. Two months thereafter, we found out the man who did this was a 15 year-old Davis High School student, 6 weeks shy of his 16th birthday. It later came out during his trial that he had been fantasizing about killing classmates, his parents, the obese and the elderly since he was 11 years old. Although his parents were divorced, they loved him and had him in therapy with different Kaiser and school therapists upon first realizing that something was “wrong” with their son. After killing my parents, Marsh confessed to an FBI Special Agent that the torture / murders left him feeling “exhilarated” and that he “wanted to do it again”. He went looking for another chance the very next night but was unable to find the appropriate victim to commit another perfect crime.
And, this teen did, in fact, commit the perfect crime. There was no evidence found at the scene of my mother and stepfather’s murder, no DNA, no footprints tracked, absolutely nothing that would have led to an arrest. This teen researched, planned and thought out how to go about killing someone without getting caught. Were it not for his bragging to his friends about what he had done, he would have never been arrested. Were it not for the expertise of the high level FBI agent who knew how to stroke his ego just right leading to a full confession, we would have never found the “prizes” he left hidden in his mom’s garage. The bloodied clothes he had worn and the hunting knife he used to stab each of my parents over 60 times.
This kind of murderous rampage coming from a 15-year-old is absolutely impossible for me to wrap my mind around. It is impossible because my brain simply does not have the capacity to imagine something as inexcusable as the possibility of this 15-year-old, who is now 23, being out in our community again.
Due to the heinousness of his crime, Marsh was tried as an adult. In 2014, more than a year after Claudia’s and Chip’s murders, he was found guilty, and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Marsh was sent to prison to serve out his sentence.
My family has been significantly impacted by changes in laws regarding juvenile criminals. California enacted SB 9 in 2012. Because of SB 9, my parents’ murderer is eligible for parole in 2037, 24 years after the murders. In 2018, Marsh was given a second chance in court. It came as a result of Proposition 57, approved by California voters two years earlier. Prop 57 requires that juvenile criminals be given a fitness hearing before they can be tried as an adult. Marsh’s trial occurred before Prop 57, so no such fitness hearing was required. But another court ruled that Prop 57 applied retroactively, so he was granted a fitness hearing to determine whether his adult convictions and sentence should be thrown out so he could be retried in juvenile court.
In October, 2018, Daniel Marsh returned to Yolo County for his scheduled Prop 57 juvenile fitness hearing. I and other members of the family saw him for the first time since the trial. After hearing testimony from both sides, including the shocking crime scene photos and coroner’s reports, the presiding judge upheld Marsh’s original convictions and sentence. Marsh was returned to prison.
In 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1391, which prohibits juveniles under 16 from being tried in adult court. If upheld by the California Supreme Court, then it could mean freedom for the young man now serving two life sentences for torturing and murdering my parents, or at the very least retrying his case every two years to keep him imprisoned.
If Marsh succeeds in convincing a parole board to release him this man who tortured, eviscerated and murdered my parents would be released from prison after serving 24 years for a gruesome double homicide with special enhancements. How can this be ensuring justice or prioritizing public safety? I would like someone to explain this to me because my family, my community, my community of law enforcement, my local District Attorney’s Office and I are terrified at the idea of this person living in our neighborhood.
In our case, the Davis Police Department went through months of investigation, spending countless hours and dollars on manpower to catch this predator. Then, the Yolo County District Attorney’s office went through a year of prep, months of preliminary hearings and a 5-week trial to convict this man beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury of 12 people. Imagine the professional hours and the amount of taxpayer money that was put into giving this violent, brutal offender a fair trial. And it was fair. I was there, present every day for 5 weeks to make sure that this man was treated in an equitable, unbiased court system.
It has been 7 years since these violent murders. 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.
My reason for testifying before you today is this; juvenile crime should not be treated with blanket legislation. Indeed, most juvenile criminals can be rehabilitated. This is a proven fact. However, and this is a big however, there are some who can NOT. This is also a fact. A one size fits all law that does not consider for a moment the victims of such violent crimes and what it has done to THEIR lives is wrong.
SB 256 would take discretion away from judges by mandating that juvenile murderers like Marsh be given parole eligibility after 25 years, regardless of the brutal nature of their crimes. It would force victims to relive the worst times of their lives over and over again. Having been through the criminal justice process, I know firsthand how traumatizing this would be for victims. The agony caused by a loved one’s brutal murder is still intense after 25 years. Advocates of SB 256 talk about “cruel and unusual punishment.” By forcing victims to relive the crimes, SB 256 would inflict cruel and unusual punishment on them.
I testify today for those victims whose lives, like mine, have been forever scarred by the acts of juvenile offenders. Please don’t pass a blanket law that takes away the right of qualified people to decide if the crime is too heinous or the body count is too high. I implore you to keep individual juvenile case decisions in the hands of Ohio judges and District Attorneys.