This is a response to an op-ed titled Texans Convicted of Crimes in their Youth Deserve a Second Look. Our responses are in bold.
Larry Robinson is no stranger to the battlefield, having served five combat tours in his 24 years as a sergeant in the U.S Army. But now he is fighting for a much more personal cause—a chance at redemption for his son, Jason.
While Robinson was deployed to Iraq in 1994, his son, 16 at the time, was part of a robbery that led to the death of pawn store clerk Troy Langseth. Although Jason wasn’t the shooter, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Now, more than a quarter century later, the Texas Legislature is set to decide whether people convicted of serious crimes in their youth should be considered for parole after 20 years, instead of 40 years.
NOVJM opposes over-sentencing offenders to prison terms that are disproportionate when compared to their crimes. And if Mr. Robinson was, in fact, over-sentenced, then that needs to be addressed. However, we cannot address Robinson’s supposedly unjust sentence without actually considering what he did. This op-ed intentionally leaves out important information that would have been considered during Robinson’s sentencing. Here is some info from an appellate decision.
A jury found appellant guilty of capital murder. Tex. Penal Code Ann. 19.03(a)(2) (West 1994). Because appellant was sixteen years old when the offense was committed, the district court assessed punishment at imprisonment for life. Tex. Penal Code Ann. 8.07(d) (West 1994).
On the morning of October 14, 1994, the body of Troy David Langseth was found on the floor of the 19th Hole Pawn Shop in Killeen, where Langseth worked as a clerk. Langseth’s mouth was covered with duct tape and he had been stabbed four times. The fatal wound penetrated Langseth’s heart and lungs. It was later determined that seventeen firearms had been stolen from the pawn shop.
Daniel Park testified that he was a member of a gang called Gong Pai, which he said was a Korean term for gangster. Park, appellant, and Freddie Li, who were also members of the gang, formulated a plan to steal guns from the pawn shop, killing the clerk and taking the store’s security videotape in the process. On the morning of the offense, the three young men drove to the 19th Hole in Park’s pickup. Park waited outside while appellant and Li, armed with pistols and a knife, went inside. Appellant and Li returned to the truck a few minutes later. Li had the stolen guns and the security videotape in a duffle bag. Appellant was carrying the knife, on which Park saw blood. Appellant was angry because Li had made him pull the knife from the clerk’s body. After changing clothes and hiding the stolen guns, Park drove appellant to school. He and Li then drove to a rural location where they burned the videotape and other evidence. They threw the knife into a lake.
Benjamin Mullins, another gang member, testified that he helped plan the pawn shop robbery with appellant and Li, but that he had not intended that the clerk be killed. After the robbery and murder, Park, Li, and appellant described the crime to Mullins. According to their accounts, appellant first bound and gagged the clerk, then he and Li seized the guns and the videotape, and finally Li stabbed the clerk.
Rick Lomba, also a member of Gong Pai, testified that he and his brother purchased two of the stolen guns from Li and Park. Appellant later told Lomba that he and Li committed the robbery and murder at the pawn shop, saying it was easy.Jason Isaiah Robinson v. The State of Texas–Appeal from 27th District Court of Bell County Bold text added.
So, Robinson was part of a gang and formulated a plan to rob the store. Armed with a knife and pistols, he invaded the store and bound and gagged the victim. He later appears to have bragged about this murder.
None of these details appear in the op-ed. Instead, we get a glossed over sugar coated version.
On April 8, the Texas House approved HB 686 with more than a two-thirds majority. The “second-look” concept as applied to crimes committed by minors embodied in HB686 is not new—and is becoming law in a growing number of states. The conservative Ohio Senate approved a comparable bill with nearly 90 percent of lawmakers in support, and it was signed earlier this year by Gov. Mike DeWine.
And Texas should not follow in Ohio’s footsteps. Ohio SB 256 has inflicted tremendous trauma upon victims. You can read about the impact SB 256 has had on victims here. This traumatic law was passed due to lies and propaganda. See this page.
Texas must follow. Research has demonstrated that young people who offend, including those who commit the most heinous crimes, are even more capable of change than their older counterparts. Jason, now 43, is a case in point. He has earned two degrees while incarcerated and is now training as an HVAC technician.
Not all young offenders are capable of change. Psychopaths cannot be reformed and that is a scientific fact.
Robinson’s progress is good. But that does not excuse the author’s purposeful misrepresentation of Robinson’s actions. Let’s remember that Troy David Langseth, Robinson’s victim, has not been earning degrees or living a life. He’s dead.
Such benefits, of course, would not matter if adopting second-look legislation would imperil the safety of our communities. But the data is clear that this is not the case. A study of Pennsylvania juveniles serving life terms who were released on a similar basis revealed that just two of the 174 youth who were freed had been convicted of a new offense during an average 21-month period following release.
The recidivism rate among juvenile criminals is higher than suggested. See here.
This is not surprising given that many cases involving youths sentenced to life for serious crimes involve poor decisions reflecting immaturity made in a very specific context. This was true in the case of Jason, whose mental health deteriorated in the absence of his father and who accompanied a friend who ultimately fired the shot.
We don’t doubt the fact that youth often make poor immature decisions. But those kinds of immature youthful indiscretions don’t result in life and long sentences. Robinson’s crime is certainly not one that reflected immaturity and poor decision-making. It was planned, calculated, and brutal. Portraying Troy’s death as an unfortunate result of a youthful mistake is inaccurate and cruel.