NOVJM in the News Media

Victims’ families are often extremely reluctant to appear in the media. It can be horribly retraumatizing. Many of us feel we have no choice – that without our voices, the media coverage will be incomplete, imbalanced, or even inaccurate. So we often choose to speak.

While we cannot possibly keep a comprehensive list of media reports that include reference to NOVJM on this website (or NOVJL, our original name), here are some samples of our appearance in the news media:

National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers

Compassion in juvenile sentencing, 2008

Several weeks ago, I spoke with Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of after she commented on a post I’d done that she felt had portrayed murder victims’ families as vengeful.

That hadn’t been my intent, but after speaking with Jennifer, I realized that my reference to victims’ families in the post had been insensitive.

My stated purpose for the creation of this blog is to create a dialogue, but doing so has proven easier said than done.

I realized that with very few exceptions, there was no conduit for meaningful dialogue between the advocates for eliminating the sentence of Juvenile Life without the Possibility of Parole and the living victims of those inmates serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles.

The Pendulum Foundation is an advocacy organization for juveniles convicted as adults. The mission statement on Pendulum’s website is this:

“Children are our most precious natural resource.

The Pendulum Foundation believes in second chances. As a juvenile justice non-profit organization, we are committed to educating the public about the issues surrounding children convicted and sentenced as adults. We are also committed to taking groundbreaking programs and projects into the prisons that will help our incarcerated youth survive and thrive, as well as transform the lives of young prisoners re-entering society and at-risk youth. Our goal is to ensure – whether inside or outside of prison — happy, healthy, well-adjusted and productive adults.”

There is no advocacy organization for the families of murder victims in Colorado. I thought about this and realized how tragic that really is. I thought about what it might feel like to have lost a loved one to a brutal crime and I imagined how hurt and angry I would feel to see blog posts and news articles in support of the offenders, with no thought to the victims’ perspective. Jennifer helped me to understand how truly traumatizing it is for the living survivors. She helped me to understand that the extreme cases of victims’ families who appear to be vengeful tell only a tiny part of the story. What we don’t see is the long term impact that survivors of these terrible tragedies live with. She helped me to understand that in addition to their grief, victims’ families often deal with divorce, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and that the prospect of having to testify at parole hearings on a recurring basis, therefore reopening the trauma of the crimes is something that has to be considered when debating changes to LWOP sentences.

Historically, there has been no constructive dialogue between “pro-offender” and “pro-victim” advocacy groups and in order to consider changes to sentencing law, this dialogue has to occur.

I just discovered that there is now a new site called The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers.

This is an excerpt from the web site, explaining why the site was created:

“The national effort is now well underway by advocates for juvenile offenders to eliminate, or certainly to moderate, the juvenile life without parole sentence for the over 2000 convicted murderers in the United States that were under the age of 18 at the time of their offenses.

While we can understand their well-meaning motives, murder victims’ family members of those cases have, for the most part, been left out of that discussion.

This is not acceptable – to leave the victims of these crimes out of the conversation about what to do with their loved ones’ killers – and will not lead to the broad social change the advocates for the juvenile lifers would hope for, in any case. Unless principles of victims’ rights and human rights and restorative justice are applied to the victims’ families, the social discourse on this sentence for younger killers will degenerate, as it already has in several states, to polarized adversarial battling, resulting in no reforms accomplished and no victims being supported.

Even though there has been a well-funded, fully staffed, orchestrated multi-organizational movement calling for an end to the Juvenile LWOP sentence operating nationally for years, only one state has passed any legislation reforming Juvenile Life without Parole sentences – Colorado.

And Colorado had to pass its law in a painfully adversarial battle with the victims’ families (that knew about the legislative effort to lessen the sentences of their loved ones’ killers). This opposition, we know, saddened and frustrated the conscientious advocates for the juvenile offenders. They have written to us and stated how much they wish that there could have been a respectful and responsible dialogue between them. Instead it was agonizing for all sides.”

I’m encouraged that this new site has been established and is reaching out to contact victims’ families and to offer them voice in this discussion. It’s only when we, as a society are able to examine the complex issue of juvenile life sentences together that we be able to find solutions and alternatives that consider the rights and the humanity of everyone.

Juvenile Life Without Parole

PBS, 2009

O’BRIEN: In Pennsylvania, a Senate committee held hearings last October to consider doing away with life sentences for juvenile offenders. Lawmakers got an earful from opponents like Dawn Romig, whose 12-year-old daughter had been murdered by 17-year-old Brian Bahr.

Ms. ROMIG (testifying): We learned that Brian had made a list. It was called 23 things to do to a girl in the woods: “Beat her, check; rape her, check; kill her, check.” Everything on that list was carried out. It was an adult act he planned and executed. Why should these juveniles not get life in prison? Age cannot excuse what they have done.

JODI DOTTS (testifying): I never got to say goodbye to Kimmie. I never got to see her in a casket. I now talk to her at her grave still, 10 years later, on Mother’s Day. I’d also like to add, as I was sitting here listening to people saying they need second chances, my daughter didn’t have a second chance. She wasn’t given that choice whether to live or to die and I’m here to fight to make sure that these juveniles do not get released. Thank you.

Teens locked up for life without a second chance

CNN, 2009

Proponents of the strict sentencing laws said public safety should be top priority. They argued that judges give certain criminals, regardless of their age, life sentences because the crimes are so abhorrent.

“There are some people who are so fundamentally dangerous that they can’t walk among us,” said Jennifer Jenkins, who co-founded the National Organization for Victims of Juvenile Lifers. The Illinois-based group has fought legislation in nine states that would remove sentences of life without parole.

Jenkins has experienced the devastation of losing family members to a teen killer. In 1990, her sister and her sister’s family, who were living in a wealthy suburb in Chicago, Illinois, were murdered by a teenager.

“Victims have the right not to be constantly revictimized,” she said.

Two cases may change the way teens are punished

CNN, 2009

Allentown, Pennsylvania (CNN) — Sixty miles and the twin tragedies of young lives lost to violence link this industrial hub to the tough streets of North Philadelphia.

Here, a grieving mother uses the memory of her murdered daughter to fight on behalf of victim rights. In his West Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, a paroled teenage killer uses his second chance to mentor at-risk youth. In these separate cases, both the criminals and their victims were juveniles.

Their stories provide the backdrop for an unrelated pair of upcoming Supreme Court appeals over whether juvenile offenders who commit violent felonies deserve tough prison sentences — especially life without parole.

On Monday the justices will examine whether the Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” should be applied in such cases, and whether young minds, because of their age, have less culpability and greater potential to be reformed.

“These two cases are going to tell us a lot about how far the Supreme Court — led by Justice [Anthony] Kennedy — is willing to go in limiting a state’s ability to impose incredibly tough sentences on either the young, or in some cases, the mentally retarded,” said Thomas Goldstein, co-founder of Scotusblog and a leading Washington attorney. “How much is the Supreme Court willing to intervene here?”

Child was abducted, strangled

On a quiet street in Allentown, Dawn Romig can look out from her porch and see the city park a block away where in 2003 her world fell apart. There on a snowy late February afternoon, her 12-year-old child, Danni, was abducted by a 17-year-old neighbor. The girl was beaten, raped and strangled.

Romig and her husband, Daryl, were in the courtroom when suspect Brian Bahr was brought in for a first appearance. “I leaned over to my husband and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I know who that is,’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve yelled at him. He was a troublemaker in the neighborhood before.’ “

Bahr was tried as an adult, convicted, and given life without parole. Pennsylvania leads the United States in teen lifers with more than 440, according to state lawmakers supporting laws to end such sentences.

Anyone in the state charged with homicide has to be tried as an adult and, if convicted, sentenced to life behind bars.

“He was very close to 18, he was very angry, he knew what he was doing, he knew right from wrong,” Dawn Romig said of her daughter’s killer. “He had a written plan on paper that they found in his school bag, 23 things to do to a girl in the woods. And he did it all.”

He had a written plan on paper that they found in his school bag, 23 things to do to a girl in the woods.
–Dawn Romig

She thinks Bahr deserves to die in prison for his crime. “This was so violent and so premeditated. Other situations deserve a second chance but something as violent as this was — it was so angry and so violent and so cold.”

Hard-learned lesson

Dawn Romig has testified before the state legislature, trying to block efforts to end life sentences for underage felons. In her tidy brick home, she shares remembrances of her daughter, including a quilt made of Danni’s clothing.

You’re simply transferring the life sentence from the offender to the victims.
–Jennifer Bishop Jenkins

“We have moved on, we’ve healed as much as I think we are going to heal, but we got to keep her memory alive,” Romig said. “She is still our child. Just because she is gone doesn’t mean that my kids don’t have a sister, that we don’t have a daughter. She’s still our child.”

She and her husband take a visitor to Danni’s grave site. They gently clean the marker and remove leaves, revealing the image of Tweety Bird, their daughter’s favorite character.

Romig plans to be at the Supreme Court for the two unrelated cases.

“I guess the only thing that came out of this horrible death of Danni is a lesson — a lesson that my children will have to learn the hard way. My son will respect girls and cherish them, never hurt them and never force them to do something they don’t want to do. And I need to try to teach my daughter some warning signs to look for so she can stay away from people” like Danni’s killer.

Edwin Desamour offers no excuses, but an explanation for why life on the streets turned him into a teenage killer and convict. In his role as mentor, he sees a measure of deja vu in his young charges.

“A lot of times I sit back and look at a lot of these kids out here and can’t believe that was me,” he said. “I can’t believe that was me walking down the street thinking, acting and talking like that. Wow. I can’t believe those stupid things.”

Desamour advocates for a fresh look at how police officers and courts deal with young offenders.

“Kids can turn their lives around. I turned my life around,” he said. “What’s at stake here are kids’ lives. We’re losing two lives. When a violent crime occurs, especially if it’s murder, not only does one person die, the other kid dies also. Prison is the cemetery of the living when a kid enters the system where it seems like there is no return once you get up in there.”

Clemency and LWOP for Under-18 Killers

Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, 2011

Twice in recent years Senator Yee has pushed failed legislation in Kruzan’s name to retroactively offer parole to some of the worst murderers in the state. Such blanket legislation would not only traumatize crime victims and ignore their constitutional rights, but also endangers the public and adds exorbitant expense to an already strained legal system.

 The California legislature has wisely twice rejected Senator Yee’s bills attempting to abolish life sentences for rare and extremely heinous aggravated murders committed by 16 and 17 year olds (JLWOP “juvenile life without parole”) with broad opposition from law enforcement, victims, and other groups concerned with public safety.

The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers  ( issued the following statement from prominent California Attorney and NOVJL President Daniel Horowitz: “Whether people agree or not with the underlying decision of the Governor about the merits of this killer’s clemency case, Kruzan’s case is Exhibit #1 why states should not enact legislation retroactively abolishing JLWOP sentences.  JLWOP for juvenile killers is entirely appropriate, effective, and constitutional, and all states should have the sentence as an option—period. Most states already do. Executive grace (clemency) is a core, state constitutional power reserved to the governor.  A Governor is directly accountable to the people for his decisions, good or bad.  The system worked.”

Twice in recent years  the United States Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of JLWOP for murder cases, first in the Roper v Simmons decision in 2005, then in 2010’s Graham v Florida decision. A significant study on JLWOP nationally called Adult Time for Adult Crimesfound the rarely used sentence widely supported throughout the nation, used in several other nations, and legally effective and appropriate for the worst cases of juvenile killers.

Attorney Phyllis Loya, whose son Larry Lasater was a Pittsburg, California police officer murdered in the line of duty, said, “States have an obligation to protect its citizens from the worst of the worst, no matter what their age. And there are more than adequate protections for offenders in the system to make their case for what their appropriate sentence should be. Every offender has appeals, habeus corpus, and clemency opportunities. Juvenile offenders facing transfer to adult court in California have extra layers of hearings and legal protections in which to argue the appropriate disposition of their cases. Senator Yee’s bill is completely out of order and made even more obviously so by Governor Schwarzenegger’s decision. All juvenile killers in every state have the opportunity to have their sentences reviewed by the governor, and appellate courts.”

Charles Stimson, Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. and the author of Adult Time for Adult Crimes said, “The Governor decided to give clemency to Sara Kruzan for reasons that are obvious, and this act alone does more to kill Yee’s proposal than all the other reasons to defeat this legislation.  Despite the propaganda campaign by anti-incarceration activists in California, Yee’s problematic bill is simply not necessary.”


For detailed information on NOVJL, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, and the facts of the crime stories of what happened to our loved ones at the hands of teen killers, see our website at  NOVJL  President Daniel Horowitz, nationally renowned defense attorney, is a frequent guest analyst on national news media, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox and other stations.  His wife was murdered by a “juvenile lifer” in California.

Victims of victims: Juvenile lifers punish families with undeserved ‘life sentences’

Mlive, 2011

James and Kimberly Sorensen will never be released from their “life sentence.”

The Westland couple did nothing wrong but are forever entrapped in reliving what happened to their son Daniel Sorensen four years ago.

“Speaking from the point of a victim, this is a life sentence for everyone who was close to somebody who was murdered by a juvenile,” said Kimberly Sorensen, 51. “It isn’t just the hearings and the meeting you have to attend, it’s every time a birthday rolls around or a holiday, you relive it all over again.”

Daniel Sorensen, 26, was murdered and decapitated Nov. 7, 2007 by Jean Pierre Orlewicz, a then 17-year-old from Plymouth Township who was sentenced to life without parole in 2008.


During the trial, prosecutors called Sorensen’s slaying a “thrill kill.” They said Orlewicz, now 21, was excited by the prospect of killing someone and getting away with it.


Orlewicz’s attorney, James Thomas, said the teen stabbed and then beheaded Daniel Sorensen in self-defense after an extortion plan went wrong.


The jury found Orlewicz guilty after testimony from Alexander Letkemann, a Westland teen who Orlewicz recruited to help him dispose of the Daniel Sorensen’s body. Letkemann testified that Orlewicz laid out items — including latex gloves, garbage bags, bottles of Drano for the cleaning, knives for the killing, a hacksaw for the decapitation and a propane blowtorch to remove his fingerprints — in preparation for the murder in his grandfather’s garage.


According to James Sorensen, Letkemann’s willingness to testify is what helped put Orlewicz in prison, where he should remain for the rest of his life.

“Do I feel justified in assuming the stance that life without parole is right with somebody for that age? Absolutely,” he said, adding he is OK with Letkemann, now 22, only receiving 20 to 30 years in prison as part of a plea deal.

In Michigan, homicide suspects ages 14 to 17 automatically go to adult court. If convicted of first-degree murder, which includes participating in a crime where someone else does the killing, the only possible sentence is life without parole — unless a plea deal is reached.


However, the “agony” for families of victims doesn’t end with a sentencing. The Sorensens, as well as other families in Metro Detroit, have to deal with appeals and constant reminders of their loved ones’ deaths.


“When a jury comes back with a verdict, you have all types of people saying, ‘Oh, he was found guilty, he’s going to prison for life, that must give you closure,’ ” said James Sorensen, 55. “If they think there’s closure, they’re sadly mistaken.


“What we’ve had to deal with for the last four years with all the appeals hearings, everything that’s appeared in the papers every time this comes up, questions being asked, that’s difficult.”


In Michigan, 358 prisoners are serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed between the ages 14 and 17, the second-highest number in the nation.


Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, says the future for families of victims murdered by juveniles in Michigan could become worse.

The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting to give juvenile lifers a second chance, through a federal lawsuit in Detroit.


“First thing, they (the ACLU) need to do is to stop filing retroactive legislation and holding a gun to the victims’ heads,” said Bishop-Jenkins, whose organization is made up of the families of murder victims killed by teenagers. “That’s what this legislation feels like to us.”


Bishop-Jenkins’ sister, Nancy Bishop-Langert, was shot to death along with her husband, Richard Langert, and their unborn child in suburban Chicago in 1990 by 16-year-old David Biro.


In 1991, a judge sentenced Biro to life in prison for the “cold-blooded killing.”


Bishop-Jenkins, who prefers not to speak Biro’s name, said there is a middle ground that can be reached to change legislation in Michigan, but the ACLU’s retroactive approach is the wrong way of doing so.


“Crime is very individualized,” she said. “Anything that gives more individual case by case discretion is going to be helpful.


“Now that being said, there are some people for whom life without parole is the right sentence.”

Bishop-Jenkins said judges in Michigan should have more options for sentencing juveniles, and maintain the life without parole for those, including her sister’s killer, who showed “utter disregard for human life.”


And Bishop-Jenkins’ feelings on the legislation are shared by other members of the organization, including Jody Robinson.


“I feel as long as the ACLU tries to do something retroactive and change the way things are, I will never have closure,” said Robinson, treasurer for the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. “I will never again feel that I can have closure with this; every year it gets brought up and I have to relive it.”

Robinson’s brother, 28-year-old auto mechanic James Cotaling, was found stabbed to death in May 1990 in a house in Pontiac.


“Trying to just deal with it and put it to rest was hard enough without having legislators bring up possibly changing the sentence of the juvenile responsible,” said Robinson, of Oakland County. “It has been very difficult on everyone in my entire family for many reasons.


“We were given a life without parole sentence. We were promised we would never have to deal with this again and unfortunately, that’s not the case.”

Barbara Hernandez, a 16-year-old at the time of the killing, and her older boyfriend, James Roy Hyde, were convicted of murder and robbery charges. They were sentenced to life in prison, but Robinson continues to fight to keep them in prison.


“They claim these children deserve a second chance, and I always say to that, ‘Well, where’s my brother’s second chance?” said Robinson, a mother and youngest sibling of seven. “He doesn’t get a second chance to have a family, have children, start his own business like he dreamed of. He doesn’t get a second chance.”


Robinson, Bishop-Jenkins and James and Kimberly Sorensen said they will continue to speak out in honor of their loved ones who can no longer speak for themselves because of juvenile murderers.


“It’s possible to have peace, but it’s a life sentence,” said Kimberly Sorensen. “Your life is forever changed. There’s never that same level of joy you experienced before that person was taken away.”

Juvenile lifers may get out, but victims’ families don’t want a law to open the door

Mlive, 2011

After decades in prison, they may eventually come to terms with their crimes.

They may come to regret their actions or understand them or get past them.

But their victims won’t.

And to many loved ones of homicide victims killed during crimes by juveniles, keeping them in prison until the day they die is the only option.

“There are people on this planet who are utterly and deeply dangerous and dysfunctional, and we can’t fix everybody, and there are some people who we have to keep separated from the rest of us,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers.

In Michigan, 358 prisoners are serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed from ages 14 to 17, second in the nation.


The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting to give them a second chance, through a federal lawsuit in Detroit. The U.S. Supreme Court this week also said it would take up the issue.


Jody Robinson is fighting back.


“They claim these children deserve a second chance and I always say to that, ‘Well, where’s my brother’s second chance?’” said Robinson, of Oakland County, who is treasurer of the national group.


“He doesn’t get a second chance to have a family, have children, start his own business like he dreamed of. He doesn’t get a second chance.”


Her brother, James Cotaling, a 28-year-old auto mechanic, was killed inside a Pontiac house in 1990.


He suffered 25 knife wounds and was nearly decapitated.

Barbara Hernandez, then 16, and her 20-year-old boyfriend, James Roy Hyde, were convicted of luring Cotaling into the house, killing him and stealing his car.


“We were given a life without parole sentence. We were promised we would never have to deal with this again, and unfortunately that’s not the case,” Robinson said.


Hernandez was denied clemency by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2010. Still, the issue resurfaces regularly in legislative bills, so far unsuccessfully.


“After 10 years, I got to a place where I could accept it and I could remember my brother’s smile,” Robinson said. “I remembered the fun times we had and I didn’t think so much of how he died or the brutality of it.”


Robinson said she gained a measure of peace until the legislation surfaced for the first time. She testified against the bill in Lansing, and she said that summoned up all the horror she lived through after Cotaling’s death.


“I’ve had to do that every year since and it has brought back nightmares,” said Robinson, who is 39 and lives in Davisburg.


“The first year I had night terrors. My children didn’t understand why I had to sleep with the light on.”


Would it be a punishing change?


The ACLU’s pending federal lawsuit argues life sentences for juvenile offenders are cruel and unusual punishment. It charges they have a lesser-developed character than adults, live longer in prison, and have a greater capacity for reform.

The lawsuit seeks parole reviews when the inmates reach 21, then every five years after.


Deborah Labelle, the lead attorney representing the ACLU, said she sympathizes with victims’ loved ones and the deep hurt they feel.


“You have a right to every feeling you have, certainly, and I would never try to persuade you to be different,” she said.


“That’s why we don’t have vigilante justice. The state and the prosecutorial role and the legislative role are all certainly different than the role of the victims’ family which may be to say, ‘You know what, I would like the death penalty.’ But we don’t have that in this state.”


Bishop-Jenkins, however, said it would be cruel and unusual punishment for victims’ families to continually face the possible release of the killers.

“Don’t torture victims families by making all of them go to parole hearings every five years for the rest of their lives,” she said. “That’s horrible.”

She scoffed at the idea life without parole would constitute cruel punishment for an offender just under 18, but not for a convict just turned 18.


“They’re trying to argue that the mere age of the offender makes the no-parole option equivalent to torture, and I just don’t see it,” she said. “I do know that when my sister was murdered, she was tortured.”


Bishop-Jenkins’ pregnant 25-year-old sister and her 28-year-old brother-in-law were shot to death inside their Chicago home by a 16-year-old in 1990.


“The man that killed her, who was four weeks shy of the adult criminal age in Illinois, who is now serving three life sentences, he is not being tortured,” she said.


“He gets to see his parents every week. … He’s got to go to school. He gets medical care. He gets exercise. … He gets to laugh. He gets to cry. He gets to worship. He gets to feel pleasure. … He gets to grow. He gets to learn. He gets to reflect.”

Some room for variation?


But Bishop-Jenkins does agree Michigan law allows too few options for sentencing juveniles in homicide cases.


“Our organization’s position is that age is not a factor as much as is the culpability of the individual offender,” she said. “We actually think that there should be a lot of case-by-case variance in court.”


In Michigan, homicide suspects ages 14 to 17 automatically go to adult court. If convicted of first-degree murder — which includes participating in a crime where someone else did the killing — the only possible sentence is life without parole in adult prison.

Patrick McLemore is doing that sentence for the killing of 67-year-old Burton community activist Oscar Manning during a 1999 home invasion.

He was 16. His 19-year-old partner was sentenced to 37 1/2 years to 50 years after pleading no contest to a lesser murder charge. McLemore maintains his only role was as a lookout.


His mother, Patricia McLemore of Burton, holds out hope she will someday see her son outside the walls of Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula. But she still thinks about the victim’s family.


“I try to put myself in the victim’s place,” said Patricia McLemore, 64. “I have wanted since it first happened to go to them and tell them how sorry I was that that happened. But my pastor told me, ‘No, you’re the last one they want to see.’ It still hurts and I do still think of them.”


She’s counting on the ACLU lawsuit to someday give her son a shot at parole.


But Manning’s family will do anything to keep him behind bars.

“You don’t have blood on your shoes when you’re just a lookout,” said Sue McFall, the victim’s daughter, referring to expert testimony during McLemore’s trial.


Neighborhood youths also testified McLemore told them he and Reid beat Manning with a wrench, according to Flint Journal files.


“All I know is that he needs to stay in there,” said McFall, 61, of Burton. “My family is going to have to fight to keep him in there.”


Robinson and Bishop-Jenkins oppose any comprehensive legislative or judicial measures that would have retroactive effect.


“If there’s a handful of them that should get out, then let’s find out who those are and let’s give them clemency,” Bishop-Jenkins said. “That’s what the governor’s for. If there are some that got over-sentenced, then fix it. Fix it through appeals, fix it though habeas, fix it through sentencing hearings. Fix it through gubernatorial clemency.”


Parole hearings every five years, Robinson agrees, would be torture.


“If they grant this, then every five years I have to go to a parole hearing because every five years she would be eligible,” she said of the teen convicted in her brother’s slaying, now a 37-year-old inmate at the Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Washtenaw County.

“So then I am definitely sentenced to a life sentence of reliving my brothers horror. And how is that fair to the innocent victims?”

Cases question life in prison sentences for juvenile crimes

StarNewsOnline, 2012

There is Peter Saunders, who, at the age of 16 stabbed and bludgeoned to death an elderly woman in her Chicago home. Years after the murder landed him in prison, he mailed a federal judge a letter that threatened to “put a nine millimeter slug right in your head.”

Then there is Kevin Boyd, who as a 16-year-old Michigan boy gave his mother keys to his father’s house knowing that she was headed there to kill him. Since being convicted for his role in the murder, Boyd earned his GED, several trade certificates and, according to court documents, is considered a model inmate.

Stories like those have come to personify opposing sides in a swirling debate over the issue of juvenile justice as the U.S. Supreme Court heads into this week preparing to decide whether sentencing teenagers to life imprisonment violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

On Tuesday, the justices are expected to begin hearing arguments in two cases whose outcome could reshape criminal law and give inmates once consigned to die behind bars a shot at getting out.

The Supreme Court ruling could reverberate across the country, bringing about change in 43 states, including North Carolina, where convicted juveniles can be locked up for life.

North Carolina is a particularly unique situation because it is one of two states that classifies 16-year-olds as adults in the eyes of the court; other states define adulthood as over 18.

Experts say the court’s determination could become ammunition for those wanting reforms in North Carolina law.

“I can imagine, depending on how the case comes out, there could be language helpful to those wanting to change the juvenile age in North Carolina,” said James Markham, assistant professor of public law and government at the UNC School of Government.

The upcoming decision has prompted a spirited discussion about federalism, victims’ rights, criminal justice reform and the culpability of young killers.

Over the past several years, the Supreme Court has been steadily chipping away at severe sentences, especially when it comes to teenage offenders.

In 2005, it banned the death penalty for juveniles. And two years ago, it made a landmark ruling in Graham v. Florida that courts may only impose life sentences on juveniles convicted of murder.

Now, the court will consider two cases involving 14-year-olds, with human rights advocates urging justices to extend the Graham decision to give young murderers sentenced to spend the rest of their days in a prison cell a chance at release.

One case involves Evan Miller, who was convicted in Alabama for a 2003 murder in which he and an older youth beat his 52-year-old neighbor with a baseball bat and then set the victim’s house ablaze. The three had spent the evening smoking marijuana and playing drinking games when the altercation ensued. The neighbor died of smoke inhalation.

The second concerns Kuntrell Jackson, an Arkansas prisoner who joined two older boys in robbing a local video store in 1999. After demanding money from the clerk several times, one of the other boys fatally shot her with a shotgun.

How many inmates the Supreme Court decision will ultimately affect varies by opinion. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates there are 2,570 prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole as adolescents, including 44 in North Carolina.

Others have denounced that statistic as exaggerated and manufactured. Charles Stimson, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation and co-author of “Adult Time for Adult Crimes,” said the actual figure is probably around 1,300 nationwide, but could be slightly higher because some states have failed to keep accurate records.

Much of the debate centers on the degree to which juveniles should be held accountable for their crimes and the extent their behavior is molded by environmental factors outside their control.

Advocates of repealing life without parole policies for young offenders have been buoyed in recent years by a throng of research they say proves adolescents are psychologically and biologically underdeveloped, and are therefore prone to rash decision-making and more likely to conform to social pressures. But more importantly, they argue, juveniles are retrievable and capable of recasting their identities.

“That branch of science has made incredible strides in the last decade and a half with the result being that we now have a large body of well-respected scientific evidence,” said Robin Walker Sterling, an assistant professor at the University of Denver and a former special counsel at the National Juvenile Defender Center.

Research often cited by opponents of juvenile life sentences was conducted by Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, and his colleagues. He said that their work has shown “pretty conclusively” that as a group, adolescents are more short-sighted, impulsive and susceptible to pressure than adults.

“The brain system responsible for people engaging in risk-taking, sensation-seeking and reckless behavior are much more easily aroused during adolescence than they are during adulthood,” he added. “And that is especially true between the ages of 10 and 16.”

Victims’ rights groups and other justice expects have filed briefs with the Supreme Court urging it not to strip states of their right to give juveniles life punishments, arguing that even young people can distinguish right from wrong and are well-aware of the consequences of their actions.

Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, president of a Michigan-based victims’ rights group called the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, said the national discourse largely excludes victims who live everyday with the lingering thought of how their loved ones died.

“What they’re proposing is retroactively undoing life without parole sentences. These victims’ families have been through hell,” she said. “If anybody is a human rights advocate, they should care about the victims’ rights as well.”

In 1990, Jenkins’ sister and brother-in-law and their unborn child were murdered by a 17-year-old who was later sentenced to life without parole. Jenkins said forcing already traumatized families to relive the events of the murder by appearing before a parole hearing.

“There’s this huge advocacy movement by people that claim to be human rights advocates and yet they are willing to torture victims’ families by reopening cases that are years old and make them go back to court and the parole board for the rest of their lives,” Jenkins said.

Should Juveniles Receive Life Sentences Without Parole?

NewsOneStaff, 2012

Opponents say that murderers sentenced to life without parole, no matter how young, do not deserve the chance to be free. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins is among those opponents. She worked hard to end the death penalty in Illinois but parts company with fellow criminal justice reform advocates on this issue, in large part because it will force the families of victims to again confront tragedies when inmates apply for release.

Her opposition is based in personal experience. Her pregnant sister and her brother-in-law were murdered in April 1990 when 16-year-old David Biro forced them into the basement of their Winnetka, Ill., home and shot them to death as they pleaded for their lives, a horrific crime discovered by her father. Biro is serving a life without parole sentence.

“It is an utter violation of due process for them to say that a finalized case, a finalized sentence, that they would reopen that,” said Bishop-Jenkins, who is president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers and director of “We never get to be free of this guy. He gets a shot at release, but my family never gets freedom from this. This will change everything for victim’s families.”

Bishop-Jenkins said she does not oppose some change in new cases _ although she believes that judges should have the flexibility to impose a life-without-parole sentence in the most heinous cases. But it is the old cases in which witnesses have died or evidence can no longer be found that she said are the most troubling. That, she said, will make it more difficult for the families of victims to mount opposition when an inmate comes up for parole.

“It’s the bait-and-switch that’s so torturous,” she said. “We walked away from that case 21 years ago believing it was over.”

Supreme Court to take up life terms for young killers

Mon., March 19, 2012

Steve Mills

Chicago Tribune

‘Violation of due process’

Opponents say that murderers sentenced to life without parole, no matter how young, do not deserve the chance to be free. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins is among those opponents. She worked hard to end the death penalty in Illinois but parts company with fellow criminal justice reform advocates on this issue, in large part because it will force the families of victims to again confront tragedies when inmates apply for release.

Her opposition is based in personal experience. Her pregnant sister and her brother-in-law were murdered in April 1990 when 16-year-old David Biro forced them into the basement of their Winnetka, Ill., home and shot them to death as they pleaded for their lives, a horrific crime discovered by her father. Biro is serving a life without parole sentence.

“It is an utter violation of due process for them to say that a finalized case, a finalized sentence, that they would reopen that,” said Bishop-Jenkins, who is president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers and director of “We never get to be free of this guy. He gets a shot at release, but my family never gets freedom from this. This will change everything for victims’ families.”

Before he went to jail, Larod Styles, like Adolfo Davis, had gotten into some trouble – but nothing approaching what happened when Styles was 16. That was when he and three others were charged with the December 1995 murders of two men gunned down in an auto sales office on the city’s South Side during a robbery. Because he was 16, he was automatically tried as an adult. Although someone else was the alleged triggerman, Styles was still convicted of murder. Because two people were killed, he was subject to a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Weighing new hope for young killers

By Steve Mills

Posted Mar 19, 2012


Opponents say that murderers sentenced to life without parole, no matter how young, do not deserve the chance to be free. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins is among those opponents. She worked hard to end the death penalty in Illinois but parts company with fellow criminal justice reform advocates on this issue, in large part because it will force the families of victims to again confront tragedies when inmates apply for release.

Her opposition is based on personal experience. Her pregnant sister and her brother-in-law were murdered in April 1990 when 16-year-old David Biro forced them into the basement of their Winnetka, Ill., home and shot them to death as they pleaded for their lives, a horrific crime discovered by her father. Biro is serving a life without parole sentence.

“It is an utter violation of due process for them to say that a finalized case, a finalized sentence, that they would reopen that,” said Bishop-Jenkins, who is president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers and director of “We never get to be free of this guy. He gets a shot at release, but my family never gets freedom from this. This will change everything for victim’s families.”

Families of murder victims criticize report about juveniles serving life sentences


 May 27, 2012

Some families of murder victims are criticizing a report that advocates ending the practice of sentencing young offenders to life in prison without parole.

Jody Robinson Cotaling of Davisburg said the report, “Basic Decency: Protecting the human rights of children,” is flawed, beginning with its name.

“They named it, ‘Basic Decency,’ ” she said. “To us, that is just very demeaning to victims. … We find the use of that very offensive.”

The report recently was released in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan and an advocacy group called Second Chances 4 Youth. It makes a number of recommendations, including abolishing sentences of life without parole for people who commit homicides before they turn 18 and requiring judges to consider a young person’s immaturity, lack of experience and other factors in issuing sentences in such cases.

According to the report, Michigan has the second-highest number of people serving lifetime prison sentences for offenses that occurred before they turned 18.

Members of National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers are

critical of the “Basic Decency” report and say they’re working on a page-by-page analysis that will be posted on their website,

Robinson Cotaling, who is secretary of the group’s Michigan chapter, said the report was filled with “half-truths” and didn’t tell the whole story.

Attorney Deborah LaBelle, principal author of the report and director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative, stands behind the document.

“The report relied upon objective data obtained from the Michigan Department of Corrections, documented peer review research, the (U.S.) Supreme Court decisions and findings in Graham (v. Florida), and a great deal of records and transcripts,” LaBelle said.

Robinson Cotaling said the section in the report about “brain science” was misrepresented. The report said the brain’s frontal lobe, which is associated with impulse control and understanding consequences, is underdeveloped in adolescents compared with adults. Scientific research has shown that the part of the brain that allows for mature decision-making is not fully developed in teenagers, according to the report.

“We don’t dispute that the frontal lobe grows in capacity into (a person’s) late 20s,” Robinson Cotaling said. “There’s nothing in the brain science that diminishes criminal culpability.”  

The report says that to date, 376 young people have been sentenced in Michigan to life without parole.

“Regarding the number of 376 offenders — we demand the list of names,” reads a page on NOVJL’s website that criticizes the report. “First, we know that this includes all the 17-year-old convicted murderers serving life. This report labels them juveniles but under Michigan law (and many other states) 17 is adult age.”

NOVJL’s website says the report’s claim that the U.S. is the only nation in the world to sentence teen killers to life in prison isn’t true, and that the report contains flawed references to court rulings.

LaBelle said the United Nations, Amnesty International and various other sources have recognized that the U.S. is the only country that has such a sentence for youth younger than age 18.

LaBelle said young people who commit serious crimes need to face significant punishment, but there should be a recognition that they are different than adults. She noted that people cannot vote, join the military or get married without parental consent until they turn 18.

“We know that they’re not mature,” LaBelle said when the report was first released. “When they do mature, they’re not always what they were, and they should be given a second chance.”

LaBelle said a main concern is that adults often end up serving less time than juveniles for comparable crimes due to plea bargaining.

The average length of prison time served by an adult who took a plea offer for a first-degree homicide charge was 12.2 years, according to the report. Juveniles are at a disadvantage in negotiating and understanding plea offers because of their immaturity, and they often reject plea offers at a higher rate than adults, the report said.

In Michigan, a conviction of first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. A conviction of armed robbery or other serious crime that is categorized as a capital offense carries a maximum penalty of life or any term of years in prison.

Prosecutors have the discretion to charge people ages 14 and older as adults in cases involving serious crimes. If someone 14 or older is convicted of first-degree murder, a judge must sentence that person to life in prison without parole if the defendant was charged as an adult.

If someone younger than 14 is charged with a capital offense, the prosecutor can still designate him or her as an adult, but the judge has discretion in sentencing and can sentence that person as a juvenile or an adult, or issue a blended sentence.

Robinson Cotaling’s involvement in the issues surrounding juvenile life without parole sentences grew out of the death of her brother, 28-year-old auto mechanic James Cotaling.

James Cotaling was found stabbed to death in May 1990 in a house in Pontiac. Barbara Hernandez, who was 16 at the time of the killing, and her older boyfriend, James Roy Hyde, were convicted of murder and robbery charges.

They were sentenced to life in prison.

Robinson Cotaling and other members of her family believe Hernandez, who was reported to have posed as a prostitute to lure James Cotaling to the house, was directly involved in the killing. They believe she should stay behind bars for the rest of her life.

Officials with the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project have filed petitions for clemency on behalf of Hernandez. Carol Jacobsen, director of the Justice & Clemency Project, told The Oakland Press in 2010 that Hernandez had an abusive home life and Hyde preyed upon her. She said Hyde, not Hernandez, was the killer.

When a hearing was held in 2010 on Hernandez’s petition for commutation, James Cotaling’s family urged members of the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board not to consider her for release.

They were thrilled when they got a letter saying that Hernandez had not been granted clemency.

Robinson Cotaling said that while sentences of life without parole might not be an appropriate sentence in every case involving a teenager who killed someone, it should remain an option.

“I will not ever say that the juvenile justice system does not have flaws, and we’re not saying that every single teen killer deserves life without parole,” Robinson Cotaling said.

“We’re saying it needs to stay on the table for the worst of the worst.”

Remember the Victims of Juvenile Offenders

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins is the president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers.

JUNE 5, 2012

When my pregnant 25-year-old sister and her husband were murdered by a 16-year-old, she left a last inspiring message of love in her own blood that transformed my life. The teenager who killed my sister’s family was born of privilege in the Chicago suburbs. He planned the crime for weeks and executed it alone. He had committed crimes before, but never faced serious consequences. His parents always bailed him out, never wanting him to get in real trouble. If only he had gotten in trouble the first time that he shot out people’s car windows with his BB rifle, or when he was accused of setting that girl’s sweater on fire in school, or any of his other serious early crimes. But he never faced legal consequences, so he kept going because, he told his friends, it gave him a “rush.”

Consequences are good, especially for early crimes. That’s when punishment can help young people change and grow.

Most young people who commit crimes appropriately stay in the juvenile justice system which is focused on rehabilitation. But there are rare cases when older teens demonstrate heinousness and culpability and carry out truly horrific crimes. For those few a couple years of detention and programs are not enough. These individuals can be appropriately tried as adults. They need to grow older before release. They need long term evaluation to see if they will ever be able to rejoin society. And we should not rule out a sentence of life without parole in extreme cases. We must balance the victims’ families’ right to some legal finality with the likelihood that the offender will ever qualify for release. It’s a sad fact that some sociopaths start young and remain dangerous all their lives.

As a volunteer with the Cook County juvenile probation program for more than a decade sharing my sister’s story with youthful offenders, I am always emotional when I talk to them about how their getting in trouble is a good thing. It means they get a chance to learn from their mistakes. Consequences are good. They help young people change and grow. They have been given a chance that I’d give anything for my sister’s killer to have had before his crimes escalated. It always inspires me how many young people actually get this.

Cases vary widely and so all must be judged individually. Sentencing has to focus not only on the offender but also on public safety and prevention of further victimization. Our society is appropriately concerned, as this forum demonstrates, with helping juveniles. Let’s also remember that the victims of violent juvenile crime need just as much of our support.

Victims’ Rights and Restorative Justice: Is There a Common Ground?

JJIE, 2012

Last week my column on the resentencing of juveniles who had received life without parole drew a comment from the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers (NOVJL). The commenter had a legal argument in opposition to my own view, but more striking, at least to me, was the sentence that asked how I am going to, “support, inform, and not re-traumatize the devastated victims’ families left behind in these horrible crimes.”

I continue to reflect on that comment, and to ponder indeed how I am going to accomplish these goals. In moments of doubt I wonder if they are indeed incompatible. The way in which policies are changed is often adversarial, and such positioning can lend itself to demonization, even the demonization of victims of crime. This goes beyond civility, as important as it may be, to what values we as a society want to embody. I want to help create a society that cares for the needs of everyone affected by crime, most importantly of all the victims and their loved ones. If those needs are ignored then justice is not done.

Many members of NOVJL are in support of Restorative Justice, and their website points out many areas of policy where advocates of both juvenile offenders and victims can come together in agreement. Jennifer Bishop, the leader of the group, in an interview with Youth Radio, said that restorative justice isn’t applicable in cases of murder, since the victim cannot be restored, but also went on to say, “There’s another term — transformative justice — that seeks to transform the experience for both offender and victim. I’m a strong supporter of that.” This approach is about finding ways to transform what has happened, and is not dependent on the offender’s release.

I am heartened by these signs that there is indeed some common ground between those who support victims and those seeking juvenile justice reform. I intend to keep these considerations in mind in my own attempts to bring restorative justice to my community, and to encourage others to do the same.

National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers: Supreme Court ruling comes against ‘backdrop of tragedy’

Jun 25, 2012

Brandon Howell

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, an organization advocating for the victims of such offenders seeks to turn attention to survivors.

The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers (NOVJL) issued a news release Monday afternoon, calling for support for the families and friends of victims slain by juvenile lifers.

“This ruling invalidating the life sentences of many of our family members’ murder cases comes against the backdrop of tragedy,” NOVJL President Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins said in a statement. “While we understand the tragic consequences to the killers, the entire context of this decision is first and foremost the appalling and senseless murders of our innocent loved ones and the devastation left behind.

“Everyone’s biggest concern now must be finding, notifying and supporting the many affected victims’ families.”

Michigan is second in the nation in the number of inmates serving life for crimes committed at 17 and younger, 358. All of them will be resentenced following Monday’s ruling from the highest court in the land, which came by a 5-4 margin.


raised concerns voiced earlier Monday by its secretary, Jody Robinson

, an Oakland County woman whose brother was killed by a juvenile lifer in 1990. Robinson suggested resentencing Michigan’s juvenile lifers will open old wounds for victims’ loved ones.

“Victims’ family members whose cases have been reopened by this decision will need resources devoted to supporting them through this process,” Bobbi Jamriska, of NOVJL Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “We call on everyone involved to gather all stakeholders to devise a system that can best serve not only the offenders, but also victims and the public.”

Bishop-Jenkins asked for the cooperation of all in overseeing the implementation of better reforms to the criminal justice system.

“NOVJL wants to work with all parties to see that reforms are ultimately enacted in ways that protect everyone,” she said. “We urge the juvenile advocates who have spent millions in recent years advocating for this re-opening of their sentences to now devote their resources to the much needed victim support.”

The NOVJL submitted an amicus brief, a document written by a third party volunteering information for a ruling, to the Supreme Court as it deliberated the juvenile lifer case.

High Court Bars Mandatory Life Terms For Juveniles

June 25, 2012

Dissenting Opinions

“There’s going to be a deluge of legislation and litigation and re-sentencing now that’s been opened today by the court, and most victims’ families don’t even know that this has happened,” predicts Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, who leads the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Steven Breyer and Sonya Sotomayor joined the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito all filed their own dissents, each of which was joined by Justice Scalia.

Justice Alito announced his dissent orally from the bench, a rare move used to signal a justice’s particular disapproval of a decision. Alito took issue with the majority’s use of the word “children” throughout its opinion, and in his opinion, he referred to the defendants only as “murderers.” From the bench, he disparaged the justices in the majority for basing their decision on their own personal preference, and said their opinion ignores reality. “The decision in this case is based on a vision of a different society, an elite vision of a more evolved, more mature society,” he said, mocking the majority’s invocation of the “evolving standards of decency” that undergird the Eighth Amendment.

“What the majority is saying is that members of society must be exposed to the risk that these convicted murderers, if released from custody, will murder again,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court “has no license to impose our vision of the future on 300 million of our fellow citizens.”

9 to appeal sentences as juveniles


Victims’ families said they’re angry at the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which said mandatory life sentences for juveniles constitute “cruel and unusual punishments.”

“The problem is they said this would never happen,” said Bobbi Jamriska, 41, of Shaler, vice president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, whose pregnant sister, Kristina Grill, 15, was killed in 1993 by Maurice Bailey, then 16, who also is appealing his sentence. “They’ve convinced all these murderers that they have a shot to get out of jail, but that’s a false sense. (Bailey’s) family is probably ecstatic, but the reality is those sentences were issued for a reason.”

How the decision will play out across Pennsylvania remains unclear. The high court did not issue guidelines to the states; spokesmen for the state parole board and Gov. Tom Corbett declined to comment, saying their offices are reviewing the decision.

“Right now they’re going to proceed like any other appeals hearing and we’ll have to figure out as it goes what’s going on,” said Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Janet Price, 60, of Braddock did not want to talk about Ricardo Peoples’ application for release.

Peoples, 32, was 17 in May 1997 when he fatally shot Orlando Price, 22, and his girlfriend, Dionda Morant, also 22, in their Braddock apartment.

“The whole thing was a trauma and I cannot talk about it,” Price said. “I don’t care what he does. Orlando’s dead and this can’t bring him back.”

The state Department of Corrections estimates there are at least 373 people in Pennsylvania, including 55 from Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties, who could appeal their sentence. Juvenile justice groups puts the number at about 480.

State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled a public hearing on Thursday in Harrisburg to discuss what lawmakers need to do in the wake of the ruling. He hopes to have a bill in the Senate by September outlining how the appeals process would work. Jamriska will be testifying.

“There’s really nothing good about this from a victim’s perspective,” she said. “It pretty much flies in the face of what the victims were promised from the justice system.”

Jamriska said Bailey received an appropriate sentence. “He’s been in jail for 18 years. That’s how old my (sister’s baby) would be had he not been murdered,” she said.

The Uncertain Fate of Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Lifers

Liliana Segura and Matt Stroud

AUGUST 7, 2012

People listen to Bridge. He is perhaps the foremost Pennsylvania attorney addressing sentencing reform for violent juvenile offenders. “To shorten my statements, I could just say, ‘Whatever Brad Bridge says, I agree with,’ ” joked Andy Hoover, legislative director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU. This could prove important when it comes to one issue that dominated the hearing: the question of retroactivity. Should the Supreme Court decision in Miller necessarily apply to prisoners already serving juvenile life without parole?

Arguing that it should not was Bobbi Jamriska, who testified on behalf of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. In 1993 a 16-year-old beat, stabbed and killed Jamriska’s pregnant sister. The perpetrator was sentenced to life without parole. A victims’ rights advocate ever since—and one of the most outspoken victim’s rights advocates in the state—Jamriska testified that because of a juvenile lifer her “whole life is in complete upheaval.”

“The sentences in these cases, cases like my sister’s murder, were prosecuted and sentenced under laws that were acceptable at the time,” she argued. Carol Lavery, another victims’ advocate, testified after her. “At some point in [their] journey, [victims] were assured that the offender who took the life of their loved one would spend the rest of his or her life in prison,” she said.

But sober legal explanations don’t persuade everyone. Nor do they necessarily lead to sound sentencing policy. As in other states, victims’ advocates in Pennsylvania often have a very strong voice when it comes to violent crime, and the push is toward harsh punishment. As Bruce Beemer, chief of staff at Pennsylvania’s office of the attorney general, argued, the Miller solution must provide “victims and their families some measure of justice, seeing that murderers are held appropriately accountable for the crime they committed and the devastation they caused.”

It’s up to the Senate Judiciary Committee to weigh all sides and come up with a legislative sentencing solution, ideally before October, when lawmakers break for the election. (In the meantime, the state Supreme Court has already scheduled oral arguments in two cases, to take place next month, which will set the tone for the resentencing of hundreds of prisoners.) It will be a challenge; while a number of different reforms were proposed, no consensus emerged as to how long teenage offenders should spend behind bars for violent crimes. Joe Heckel, of the advocacy group Fight for Lifers West, and William M. DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, argued that they should receive sentences of ten years to life. (DiMascio suggested holding annual parole hearings once the ten-year minimum has been met.) Beemer would prefer a minimum sentence of forty years to life. And Bridge, citing occasions when Pennsylvania courts struck down the state’s death penalty statute and commuted prisoners’ sentences to “the next most severe” punishment available, suggested a similar route, converting life without parole sentences handed out for first- and second-degree murder to sentences of twenty to forty years, as in third-degree murder cases.

Kids Shouldn’t Die in Prison

AUGUST 10, 2012

Kimberlee Johnson

Impact and implications of ruling

Opponents of the abolition of mandatory JLWOP argue that given the heinous and sometimes premeditated murders that are committed, JLWOP should continue in the United States. It is important to remember that to the same extent that juvenile lifers, family members of these lifers, and fair sentencing advocates feel excited, victorious, and relieved, victims’ families, prosecutors, and victim-advocacy groups feel angry, defeated, and grieved.

These voices must also be heard. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, said, “This ruling invalidating the life sentences of many of our family members’ murder cases comes against the backdrop of tragedy. While we understand the tragic consequences to the killers, the entire context of this decision is first and foremost the appalling and senseless murders of our innocent loved ones and the devastation left behind…

For families of victims of juvenile murderers, ruling reopens ‘traumatic wounds’

25 Sep 2012  US NEWS on
Family photo/Courtesy of Bobbi Jamriska

Kristina Grill, 15, was murdered in 1993 by her ex-boyfriend, who was also 15 at the time of her death and 16 when he was convicted. She’s seen in this file photo in Pennsylvania a year before her murder.

By Elizabeth Chuck, Staff Writer, NBC News

Nineteen years ago, Bobbi Jamriska’s younger sister was found murdered in a Pennsylvania schoolyard. As Jamriska grieved, one thing brought her solace: When a court found her sister’s 16-year-old ex-boyfriend guilty and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

“When you get up every day, you think about what happened, but at least you know that there was that one constant, that life-without-parole was going to make sure that you never had to relive that part of it,” said Jamriska, 40, who lives in Pittsburgh.

But three months ago, the Supreme Court struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles as cruel and unusual punishment. While the June 25 ruling wasn’t necessarily designed to be applied retroactively, some youth advocates are trying to use it to free so-called “juvenile lifers,” setting off a series of battles over what to do with the approximately 2,100 convicted murderers who were handed mandatory life-without-parole sentences for acts committed as youths.

For victims’ families, the decision has had huge emotional, and in some cases, legal implications.

“After the [Supreme Court] ruling, everyone felt like they were reliving the trial phase and their loved ones’ murder,” said Jamriska, who traveled to Washington, D.C., with other victims’ families to protest the ruling.

She is part of a support group called the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers.

“There were a lot of families who didn’t have any idea that this was even possible,” she said. “For them, it was literally one day business as usual, and then the next day, on the news, their whole world got turned upside down.”

Pennsylvania, where Jamriska lives, has the biggest concentration of juveniles serving mandatory life sentences — about 480 of them, the oldest of whom was convicted almost 60 years ago and is now in his 70s, according to the Juvenile Law Center. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania began hearing arguments for why some of the lifers there should be paroled, including the ex-boyfriend who killed Jamriska’s sister in 1993.

No one in the legal system told Jamriska that the parole arguments involved her sister’s killer. She found out from a reporter’s voicemail about three weeks after the Supreme Court ruling that lawyers were trying to get parole for him.

Jamriska was stunned, but she said a lack of communication is somewhat understandable.

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins /

Bobbi Jamriska, of Pennsylvania, right, and Jody Robinson, left, of Michigan, another member of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, are seen advocating for victims’ families’ rights on March 20, 2012, outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether mandatory life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment for convicted juvenile murderers.

“There never was a contingency for if this person who was sent to life in prison with no parole is suddenly able to get out,” she said. “The DA’s office isn’t really staffed to manage that influx of appeals and those victims who are trying to get information — I don’t blame them.”

The state Supreme Court has put the arguments on hold and didn’t give a timeline for a ruling. The Pennsylvania legislature still needs to come up with an appropriate alternative punishment for minors going forward.

“The sentencing scheme in Pennsylvania currently provides that for any individual, juvenile or adult, convicted of first or second-degree homicide must either receive a sentence of death or a sentence of life without parole. For juveniles, that mandatory sentence of life without parole has been declared unconstitutional,” Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center, said. “We think the courts should look to the next most severe sentence that is statutorily available in the state. Here, that means a sentence for third-degree murder, where you have a maximum sentence of 40 years.”

Levick suspects lawyers in other states will argue for that too. Since the Supreme Court ruling, North Carolina has passed a law replacing the mandatory life without prison sentence with a 25 years to life sentence; California’s governor is currently evaluating a law that sets up two different schemes where parole eligibility comes in at either 15 or 25 years to life, Levick said. In all, 28 states still allow mandatory life-without-parole sentences for minors, a situation that will have to change.

“States can still impose life without parole,” she said. “They just can’t make it the only sentence available.”

As some juvenile advocates try to undo sentences that have already been imposed, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, 54, president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, worries about the families of their victims.

“Whenever you reopen traumatic wounds or you’re triggering a retraumatization, you’re talking about something that is going to affect people’s work, their sleep, their health, their marriages — everything,” she said.

Victims can only rely on each other for support, Jenkins said.

14 years old: Too young for life in prison?

“They don’t register for victim notification and they don’t monitor what’s happening, and then you get these reactions like what we’ve been getting in our organization,” Bishop-Jenkins said. “We’ve been trying very hard to find people to let them know that this multi-billion dollar campaign to free their loved ones’ killers is going on and they’re just shocked.”

Family photo/Courtesy of Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins

From left to right: Richard Langert and Nancy Bishop Langert are seen on their wedding day in 1987 in Kenilworth, Ill., with Nancy’s parents and sister, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, far right. The Langerts were murdered by a 16-year-old in 1990.

There are potential legal issues too: Bishop-Jenkins’ pregnant sister and brother-in-law were murdered in their home in Winnetka, Ill., 22 years ago. It was Bishop-Jenkins’ father who found their bodies; his testimony served as crucial evidence in the initial trial. Eight years ago, her father died of cancer. She says the judge from the first trial has also died.

“My father was the best eyewitness to the carnage of the crime scene. We didn’t videotape him talking about the crime,” Bishop-Jenkins said. “We didn’t get the transcript of what the judge said at the sentencing hearing where he gave this speech about if anybody deserved life without parole, he did.”

She now fears she and her mom, 83, could have to face her sister’s killer in sentencing hearings in court. And while she doubts he will be granted parole, she said she worries lawyers may try again every couple of years.

Juvenile Killers and Life Terms: a Case in Point

Ethan Bronner
Oct. 13, 2012

LA BELLE, Pa. — To this day, Maurice Bailey goes to sleep trying to understand what happened on Nov. 6, 1993, when as a 15-year-old high school student he killed his 15-year-old girlfriend, Kristina Grill, a classmate who was pregnant with his child.

“I go over it pretty much every night,” said Mr. Bailey, now 34, sitting in his brown jumpsuit here at the Fayette State Correctional Institution in western Pennsylvania, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

Every night, Bobbi Jamriska tries to avoid going over that same event. Ms. Jamriska, Kristina’s sister, was a 22-year-old out for a drink with friends when she got the news. Ten months later, their inconsolable mother died of complications from pneumonia. Weeks later, their grandmother died.

“During that year, I buried four generations of my family,” Ms. Jamriska said at the dining room table of her Pittsburgh house, taking note of her sister’s unborn child. “This wrecked my whole life. It completely changed the person I was.”

When the Supreme Court in June banned mandatory life sentences without parole for those under age 18 convicted of murder, it offered rare hope to more than 2,000 juvenile offenders like Mr. Bailey. But it threw Ms. Jamriska and thousands like her into anguished turmoil at the prospect that the killers of their loved ones might walk the streets again.

The ruling did not specify whether it applied retroactively to those in prison or to future juvenile felons. As state legislatures and courts struggle for answers, the clash of the two perspectives represented by Mr. Bailey and Ms. Jamriska is shaping the debate.

Mr. Bailey was a good student with no criminal record. He is black and Ms. Grill was white, and many classmates thought of them as a chic couple.

“Reese was someone everyone wanted to be friends with, and so was Krissy,” said Shavera Maxwell, a former classmate, using the couple’s nicknames. “They were deeply in love, and she wanted to keep the baby. He didn’t.”

Kristina’s father, who did not live at home, was known for a bigoted attitude, so Kristina kept her relationship with Maurice secret from him.

Maurice’s father, an electrical engineer who had tensions with white co-workers, also disapproved of the interracial romance. One day when he came home early, he caught the couple in bed. He threw her out and beat Maurice, knocking his head into a wall.

Maurice’s mother, Debra Bailey, felt differently. She welcomed Kristina into her home. “Krissy’s 15th birthday was celebrated with a barbecue in our backyard,” said Ms. Bailey, a database coordinator at Carnegie Mellon University, who is now divorced from Maurice’s father. “Her family didn’t come. Those two were too young to be doing what they were doing, but I told her that if she got pregnant, we would deal with it.”

Kristina told a friend, Pamela Cheeks, the night before she was killed that she was about to tell her family about her pregnancy and that she was meeting Maurice the next day to discuss their future, Ms. Cheeks said in an interview. In her diary, Kristina wrote that Maurice “better show up” at their agreed time and place.

Maurice did meet Kristina that Saturday afternoon at an elementary school playground. He came with a knife, stabbed her repeatedly in the neck and upper body and left her on the ground. Before leaving, he told the police at the time, he zipped up her jacket in a vain effort to stem the bleeding.

He hid the knife in the woods and went home. In the prison interview, he said he remembered very little of the event except that right after stabbing Kristina, her mother, whom he had never met, suddenly came into his mind. When he returned home, the first person he saw was his father. He said he felt an odd sense of relief that the source of tension between them was gone.

Neighborhood youngsters came upon Kristina’s body. Police officers went to her home, where they found her diary with detailed entries of her relationship with Maurice. When the police went to the Bailey home in the middle of that night and woke up Maurice, his mother recalls that he said to them, “I figured you’d come.”

Maurice’s legal defense was built around the pressures he had faced. His father testified in court that he had told Maurice that if Kristina got pregnant, he would kill him. Maurice’s grades were declining as he spent more time with Kristina; he was trying unsuccessfully to break up with her, losing control, growing afraid.

His petition for a new hearing will argue that the pressures he felt as a 15-year-old — a violent father, a pregnant girlfriend — are unique to youth and therefore covered by the Supreme Court ruling. An adult, his lawyers will argue, would have reacted differently.

But Kristina’s sister, Ms. Jamriska, said there was no escaping the brutality of the crime and its premeditation. As she put it: “There are many ways of dealing with pressure. You can run away. I don’t care if you’re 5 or 50, you know that killing is wrong. If you murder your girlfriend and unborn baby, I don’t know if you can come back from that.”

She added that she felt that much discussion of juvenile crime shied away from the horrors of the acts. “They often show pictures of the killers looking like kids who could be trick-or-treating,” she said.

Ms. Jamriska, 41, who works in marketing for medical equipment, is active in a group of families of victims, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. She said that such offenders received almost no rehabilitation in prison and that letting them out was not only unfair to victims’ families but also posed a risk.

In the two-hour conversation in prison, Mr. Bailey did not entirely dispute that. Like others serving life sentences, he has not been allowed to take classes or vocational training because it is viewed as a waste of resources. He has taken an interest in cooking and prepares inmates’ meals from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. He has a good record of behavior in prison.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, Mr. Bailey and other juvenile offenders have begun talking about the decision and themselves.

“We discuss it while working out in the yard,” Mr. Bailey said, his bulked-up arms evidence of his two-hour daily exercise routine. “We are having the same debates on it as you are outside. Years ago, I’d have said, ‘Just let us out.’ But if the wrong juvenile lifer is let out and he goes off and kills again, it could ruin it for the rest of us. I know that I would never commit such an act again.”

Ms. Jamriska said there was no way to predict that.

“There are thousands of family members who can’t deal with it at all,” she said. “They thought this was behind them and now discover that they may have to relive the horrors again, return to the court again. Whatever sense of closure they had is gone. We were stripped of finality by five people in Washington.”

Correction: Oct. 21, 2012

Because of an editing error, an article last Sunday about the effect of a recent Supreme Court ruling barring mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder misstated the scope of the ruling. The court banned only mandatory life sentences without parole for those under age 18 convicted of murder; it did not completely banish life sentences for such convicts.

Victim’s Sister Says Life Without Parole Is Reasonable For Teens


As part of Youth Radio’s juvenile justice coverage, we spoke with Jennifer Bishop, the President of The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers  — an organization dedicated to advocating for victims’ rights in the criminal justice system.

Bishop’s sister was four months pregnant when she and her husband were murdered by a teenage offender 22 years ago. That individual is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

The Supreme Court decided in June that courts must limit life sentences when hearing cases that involve offenders under the age of 18. In other words, states can no longer mandate life sentences for young murderers. Several states, including California, have passed subsequent bills that allow offenders sentenced as minors to life in prison to appeal their sentences after serving 15 years in jail.

Bishop believes these bills will be found unconstitutional, and that the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t apply to retroactive cases. Check out a Q & A with her below.

Youth Radio: Is being sentenced to life in prison similar to being given a death sentence?

Bishop: There is nothing that rankles me more than people who say a life sentence is the same as a death sentence. It is not… They have not been sentenced to die. Yes, they will spend their lives behind bars, yes, they’ve lost their freedom. But you know what they get to still do every day? Grow old. Talk to friends. Laugh, cry, feel pleasure, feel pain, learn things, sleep, exercise, eat. In many states get married, in many states have sexual relations, publish books … they can contribute to a better society.

You support life sentences, but you are against the death penalty. Can you explain why?

Bishop: I am against death penalty because someone from my family has been killed. …I have experienced something so horrific that most people have never experienced… For that small handful of us that have been touched by murder we understand that when somebody is killed in your family, no matter what the reason or the cause, it’s devastating. I could not in conscience contribute to the murder of another mother’s son or another brother’s sister in any way. …

I cannot ethically say that I think that what happened to my sister and her husband and her baby is wrong, and then turn around and support the state doing it to somebody even if they’re guilty of a horrible crime.

People on the other side of this issue think young people are still developing, and advocate for giving young offenders the chance to rehabilitate. What do you say to them?

Bishop:They refuse to recognize and they’re very naive in this perspective, they’re naive in their desire for the fact that everyone’s… fixable and deserves to be set free. It’s not accurate. The sad fact is that there are people that are too dangerous to walk among us.

California recently passed Senate Bill 9 that allows offenders who were sentenced to life without parole to appeal their sentences. What do you think about this?

Bishop:California recently passed a bill SB9 that will retroactively undo life without parole for teen killers. There are 300 plus cases that this bill will affect, and not a single one of the victim’s families was notified by the state of California, by the bill’s sponsor, or by the advocates who claim to be human rights advocates.

What do you see as the right balance between victims’ rights and offenders’ rights?

Bishop:Victims have a right to be heard in the process, they are key stakeholders in any public policy conversation about criminal justice matters — they need to be heard and included. Given the 1300 cases of juvenile life without parole nationwide, there are thousands of victim’s family members of these teen killers… and we are trying to make sure that they all know that there is a national advocacy movement determined to retroactively undo life sentences that those families walked away from believing they were permanent.

How do you feel about Restorative Justice as a method for improving the criminal justice system?

Bishop:The word restorative cannot apply to a murder, because you can’t restore somebody who’s been murdered. There’s another term — transformative justice — that seeks to transform the experience for both offender and victim. I’m a strong supporter of that.

Do those programs replace the criminal justice system? In some cases for minor crimes… yes, restorative justice has replaced the criminal justice process. But for the most part it’s a parallel program that’s offered in conjunction with [the criminal justice system] and should be available to every offender and victim who wants it… But you have to have an offender who’s willing and able, a victim who’s willing and able, and a system to support it.

We need more restorative justice programs. It’s a right for victims. If they want to have a conversation with an offender, they should be able to.

In your experience, what do young people think about the issue of life sentences for minors?

Bishop:When I go into high school classrooms and talk about this issue [and I visit all kinds of schools] the consensus is virtually universal. I’ve almost never had a student speak out on anything but this point of view. They recognize — high school juniors and seniors — that killing is wrong. They know that anyone who would pre-plan, cold-calculate a horrific torture murder is a seriously dangerous person… these students recognize that a life sentence is entirely appropriate when there has been due process.  

Juveniles with Mandatory Life Sentences Should be Resentenced

JJIE, 2012

The recent decision (reported here by the L.A. Times) by the U.S. Supreme Court to ban mandatory juvenile life without parole has been rightly celebrated as a victory by activists and others interested in progressive policies. The ruling has left many scratching their heads in its wake though, mostly because the court ruled the sentences unconstitutional, but did not directly assign a process for revisiting the cases, many of which are decades old.

A few opponents to the ruling are even contending that it cannot be applied retroactively. Youth Radio interviewed Jennifer Bishop, the President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. Ms. Bishop, who has previously written for JJIE, is a victims’ rights advocate whose group focuses on those most affected by juvenile murderers: families. The group’s website,, offers links to analyses of the court’s decision that argue for letting current sentences stand, a very narrow interpretation of the ruling.

Appeals Accepted in First Miller Cases

JJIE, 2012

The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers brings together grieving families.

“While we understand the tragic consequences to the killers, the entire context of this decision is first and foremost the appalling and senseless murders of our innocent loved ones and the devastation left behind,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, NOVJL president, in a statement.  Her organization says Miller reopens the judicial part of their painful ordeals that victim families considered closed.


Victims’ Rights and Restorative Justice: Is There a Common Ground?

 NOVJM is praised for its position in support of victim-offender dialogue in some cases

By:  | View as “Clean Read”

Frequently writing and speaking about youth justice issues, especially restorative justice, has at times seemingly put me at odds with those who advocate for victims’ rights. Earlier this year I was in Washington, D.C., and met with members of a well-known group that lobbies for juvenile justice reform. They have opposed juvenile life without parole, harsh sentences, and adult transfer, while advocating for community based approaches and rehabilitation efforts to youth who have committed crimes.

As we were discussing my own interest in restorative justice, one of them expressed to me his doubts that those working for victims’ rights could ever work together with those seeking reform of the justice system. I was surprised, since one of the foundations of restorative justice is supposed to be that it is victim centered, and that harm to the victim is what must be addressed first in any attempt to respond to crime.

Last week my column on the resentencing of juveniles who had received life without parole drew a comment from the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers (NOVJL). The commenter had a legal argument in opposition to my own view, but more striking, at least to me, was the sentence that asked how I am going to, “support, inform, and not re-traumatize the devastated victims’ families left behind in these horrible crimes.”

I continue to reflect on that comment, and to ponder indeed how I am going to accomplish these goals. In moments of doubt I wonder if they are indeed incompatible. The way in which policies are changed is often adversarial, and such positioning can lend itself to demonization, even the demonization of victims of crime. This goes beyond civility, as important as it may be, to what values we as a society want to embody. I want to help create a society that cares for the needs of everyone affected by crime, most importantly of all the victims and their loved ones. If those needs are ignored then justice is not done.

Many members of NOVJL are in support of Restorative Justice, and their website points out many areas of policy where advocates of both juvenile offenders and victims can come together in agreement. Jennifer Bishop, the leader of the group, in an interview with Youth Radio, said that restorative justice isn’t applicable in cases of murder, since the victim cannot be restored, but also went on to say, “There’s another term — transformative justice — that seeks to transform the experience for both offender and victim. I’m a strong supporter of that.” This approach is about finding ways to transform what has happened, and is not dependent on the offender’s release.

I am heartened by these signs that there is indeed some common ground between those who support victims and those seeking juvenile justice reform. I intend to keep these considerations in mind in my own attempts to bring restorative justice to my community, and to encourage others to do the same.

Juvenile Life Without Parole: Massachusetts Moves Cautiously Towards Reform

Maggie Mulvihill

November 20, 2012

Last week,, a Middlesex Superior Court judge wrote the first decision in the state discussing the consequences of the high court ruling, arguing that the only option available to judges now is to sentence teen killers to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Legislation would be required, wrote Judge Kathe M. Tuttman, only if the state determines it wants the option to sentence juveniles to life without parole, a process that she said would require legislative guidelines.

The ruling tore open a door the victim’s families thought was locked forever. Across the country, more than 2,100 individuals are serving mandatory life without parole sentences for murders committed while they were under 18, said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center.

Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, the Illinois-based head of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, said states shouldn’t change law in response to the decision without talking to victim’s families.

“Of course the uncertainty of these months after Miller is painful for these families. Swift can be good for victims if it is thorough and properly done, but the state of Massachusetts cannot act until they talk to every family of a Massachusetts victim,” said Bishop-Jenkins, whose sister, brother-in-law and unborn child were murdered by a teen now serving three life sentences. “Most of these families have had to wait for justice in any case.”

The high court gave states no specific guidance on how to apply the decision, nor indicated whether it should be applied retroactively to those already sentenced.

Governor Deval Patrick proposes changes to sentencing laws for young killers

Noah Bierman
January 26, 2013

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said in a statement that, in the absence of life without parole, “those who kill with deliberate premeditation or extreme atrocity and cruelty’’ should serve at least 35 years before they are eligible for release.

“For a 15-year-old killer, parole eligibility at age 50 limits the risk of recidivating and still provides a life expectancy of 20 years, where the victim has none,’’ he said.

Current Massachusetts law was passed in 1996, soon after 15-year-old Eddie O’Brien was convicted of killing his friend’s mother, slashing her nearly 100 times in her Somerville home.

For the same reason, the proposal could please some victims’ advocates.

“Most of us, I can tell you, believe that a life without parole sentence should be an option, and it should be rare,’’ said Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, head of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, an Illinois-based group, whose pregnant sister and brother-in-law were killed by a teenager.

Leone, the Middlesex district attorney, opposes several aspects of Patrick’s bill, which may loom as a major factor in the Legislature.

After more than two decades in prison, a second chance

November 13 2013
Claire Gordon

Some juvenile offenders serving life without parole are callous murderers. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins believes that the boy who brutally killed her sister while pregnant falls into that category, and as the president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, she’s a leader for efforts nationwide to defend life sentences for juveniles.

“The 17-year-old who killed my family members was not a child,” Bishop-Jenkins told America Tonight back in September. “He planned the murder for months in advance, months. He was not a poor kid from a gang-infested neighborhood. He was a white rich kid, who lived in a $3 million house, and he did this because he was bored and was thrilled by violence and evil.”

Bishop-Jenkins advocates on behalf of victims’ loved ones, who may be traumatized by the fear of an offender being released again. She thinks it’s impossible to reopen all these decades-old cases and recreate due process. But keeping these individuals behind bars also comes at a cost.

Just Kids


This decision didn’t affect just Cunningham. All but about 15 or so JLWOP sentences in Pennsylvania would remain as they were—sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

For people such as Bobbi Jamriska, Pennsylvania’s director of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, Pennsylvania’s JLWOP decision was a win. In 1993, Jamriska’s pregnant sister was killed by a 16-year-old who is serving a life-without parole sentence.

“You cannot go back and change the past,” she says. “The folks that were sentenced prior to Miller were sentenced under the law at the time. To go back and try to take that away has been very traumatic to the victims.”

Sentenced young: The story of life without parole for juvenile offenders

Beth Schwartzapfel
February 1, 2014

5.Focus on victims

A case like Jennifer’s gives a skewed sense of the issue, says Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. “The defense bar and Amnesty International and various groups across the country always talk about the juvenile. And they call them ‘the child.’ People throw out the frontal lobe, and that they’re young children, and they call them Joey and Billy and Susie.” (Indeed, in one of Jennifer’s legal briefs, her attorney refers to her as “Jenny” throughout, although only close friends call her that.) He accuses the ACLU and others who bring lawsuits on behalf of juvenile lifers of cherry-picking non-shooters and other sympathetic plaintiffs, as opposed to those like David Biro, a 16-year-old high school honor student who in 1990 broke into the home of Richard and Nancy Bishop Langert, a young Winnetka, Ill., couple expecting their first baby, and shot them execution-style. “He wanted to be the ultimate assassin,” said a friend.

“Prosecutors, while we certainly have feelings and empathy and care about criminal defendants,” says Burns, “our primary focus is and has been and will be on victims and families and how it impacts them.” In answer to critics who say that lifers deserve at least a chance at parole, Burns talks about the impact of these parole hearings on the surviving relatives of victims. Parole hearings, he says, take a deep financial and emotional toll on victims’ surviving family members, who often travel hundreds of miles to be there and must face their loved ones’ killers again and again, every two or three or five years.

Indeed, this has recently become a scary possibility for Nancy’s Langert’s sister, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins.

One of the founders of National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, Bishop-Jenkins readily admits that juvenile life without parole is at times inappropriate — in many felony murder cases, she says, “those folks should definitely be resentenced” — but she argues these cases are rare and can be addressed individually with appeals and other legal mechanisms already in place. “If you have weeds in your front lawn, you go in and you pull them,” she says. “But you don’t get a bulldozer and dig up the whole yard.”

The young man who killed Nancy and Richard “represents one of the ‘worst of the worst,’” Bishop-Jenkins says. When the couple begged him to spare the life of their child, he instead took aim and shot Nancy directly in the stomach. “There are people here in Illinois who work against juvenile life without parole who have told me with one voice, ‘This guy will never get out,’” says Bishop-Jenkins. “He’s a serial killer and a psychopath and unrepentant.”

So when a 2006 bill began circulating in the Illinois legislature that would have allowed parole hearings for lifers who were sentenced as juveniles, Bishop-Jenkins says she was “traumatized.” “It is a monumentally unfair thing to do to tell a family that a guy is serving life and then change that,” she says.

Still, even Bishop-Jenkins’ own family is split on the issue. Her surviving sister, Jeanne Bishop, says her faith led her to forgive Biro, and last year she began visiting him in prison. It seems to her he is making halting progress toward remorse and responsibility for his actions. Twenty-five years on, Jeanne doesn’t think Biro is ready to be released, but she doesn’t forswear the possibility that one day he might be. “This is a merciless sentence,” she told The Chicago Tribune. “It says no matter how redeemed you are, no matter how sorry or rehabilitated, we are never going to let you out.” The two sisters testified on opposite sides of a recent parole bill, drafted in response to Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruling on juvenile life.

“Victims alone understand how serious this is,” says Bishop-Jenkins. “What it does to your life to never have an end, a legal finality to the case involving your loved one’s murder. Constantly having to go back to contend with the offender.” 

Michigan legislature nearing enactment of Miller fix without retroactivity

As reported in this AP article, headlined “Mich. House OKs Sentencing Rules For Young Killers,” a state that has imposed LWOP on a very large number of juvenile murderers is getting close to revising its laws in response to the Supreme Court’s constitutional concerns with mandating this punishment.  Here are the details:

Young killers could no longer be sentenced to mandatory life without parole under legislation nearing final approval in Michigan, but those now incarcerated for crimes committed under age 18 would stay locked up despite pleas for a second look.

The Republican-controlled state House voted 62-48 Tuesday, mostly along party lines, to approve the new sentencing rules, 19 months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory no-parole sentences for juveniles. The Senate is expected to send the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder; it approved an earlier version in the fall.

The Supreme Court’s June 2012 decision – based on the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment – is silent on retroactivity, and courts across the country have been divided ever since on the issue. It is especially relevant in Michigan, home to around 360 juvenile lifers, the second-highest number in the U.S.

House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Kurt Heise said he wishes the high court had settled the retroactivity question, but lawmakers put guidelines in place in case it does in the future. The bill includes a “trigger” so prisoners now behind bars would be resentenced if the U.S. Supreme Court or Michigan Supreme Court determines the 2012 ruling should apply retroactively….

Juveniles can still be sentenced to life without parole after the high court’s decision. The sentence just cannot be mandatory on judges, who also must consider factors such as defendants’ immaturity, rehabilitation chances, family and home environment, peer pressures and inability as youths to navigate possible plea deals.

If Michigan juveniles charged as adults commit first-degree murder or other serious crimes causing death and do not receive life without parole, judges would have to sentence them to a minimum of at least 25 years and a maximum of at least 60 years under the bill….

It is estimated that 150 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles were accomplices, not the actual killers.

Over objections from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara in November directed the state to give juvenile lifers an opportunity to apply for release or face the appointment of a special master to oversee the process. His ruling was appealed.

Jody Robinson’s brother was killed by a 16-year-old and 20-year-old in Pontiac in 1990, and she later co-founded the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. “This legislation will not only put Michigan laws in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court, but it also gives victims’ families the hope that legal finality is a possibility and the nightmare of repeatedly reliving their loved one’s murder may soon come to an end,” Robinson said in a statement released by Schuette’s office.

Mandatory Life Sentences for Minors Still a Debate in Michigan

(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 6, 2014)

Juvenile Life Without Parole, and the Hope and Horror of Re-sentencing

The call for re-sentencing of convicted murderers proposes dragging families of victims through renewed court processes involving details many had long tried to bury. The inevitable re-traumatization of families due to those proposed hearings has outraged victims’ advocates throughout the state.

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, a leading activist for victims’ rights, founded the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers following the gruesome premeditated triple murder of her brother-in-law and pregnant sister by a teenage shooter.

Though for decades Bishop-Jenkins has been heavily involved in criminal justice reforms, including abolishing the death penalty in Illinois, she does believe in sentencing certain juveniles to life without parole. It is naïve, she suggests, to categorically consider some killers less culpable due to their youth when they plan murders far in advance of committing them, gloat afterward and then refuse to repent in the years following.

“When something happens to reawaken the trauma, when (victims’ families) see somebody who reminds them of their murdered loved one, the trauma comes out and it feels like it’s happening now,” Bishop-Jenkins described the lasting pain of remembering a homicide. “The heart races, the stomach churns. When victims’ families get re-traumatized in these situations, it’s actually an immediate threat to their health. And to propose multiple hearings just compounds that.”


As psychologist Darlene Perry listens to CRIIC members talk about their hope and fears for re-sentencing, she notices a certain “elephant in the room.” She tells the women that her goal is to help them prepare for the day they may be able to reconnect with their children, but in order to get to that point they need to be in right standing with themselves.

“One of the things I’m hearing is we’re comfortable talking about the injustices and the advocacy,” Perry said. “We’re comfortable with the hope that we need. But I’m not hearing the willingness to sit with how your life has been altered, how your soul has been altered. I’m telling you now that you have to heal that before you can help anyone else.”

Anderson dispels the tension that followed Perry’s observations with a joke about Irish Catholicism and denial, but it’s fellow member Kathy Aguilar who tries to explain another reason why families of the incarcerated can’t find peace until the day they actually get their loved ones back. Greater than her own fear losing her brother a second time if his case is reheard is the fear of what that decision would do to him.

“Now that the hope is there, (my brother) goes, ‘My heart’s just bursting and pounding that I could walk out of here.’ My fear is really for him,” Aguilar said. “He’s changed his life around and he’s not that 16-year-old boy anymore, but will anyone else on the outside see it?”

Aguilar said she doesn’t know if her brother will last through the re-traumatization of a second life sentence. He’s been incarcerated 33 years when many other inmates imprisoned for less have committed suicide.

For the parents of homicide victims, fear for their surviving children similarly outweighs fear for themselves.

Dora Larson, 67, is a longtime victim rights activist who helped found the Illinois Department of Corrections’ first victim services unit. Her daughter Vicki was only 10 when she was kidnapped, raped and strangled by a 15-year-old who dug her grave three days prior to committing the crime back in the summer of 1976.

The convicted killer was sentenced to life imprisonment, but the possibility of his release has motivated Larson in recent years to renew her fight to bring victims’ families to the negotiation table over juvenile life without parole.

“(Miller v. Alabama) was a nightmare,” Larson recalled hearing about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to ban juvenile life sentencing. (The court had earlier taken the death penalty off the table, and life without parole for crimes except in cases of homicide, which Miller changed). “I have children and grandchildren and I worry about them if this guy gets out. He’s fairly young. It’s going to be up to my boys to step up and go to all these hearings.”

Larson’s adult son John wasn’t even born when Vicki was murdered. Now a police officer in Springfield, Ill., John assures his mother that he’ll always continue their family’s fight to keep his sister’s killer behind bars.

“That’s what scares me to death,” Larson said. “I don’t want him out so he could do it again. It’s not fair that the second generation is going to have to take care of it.” She recalled that before Vicki’s killer targeted their family, he had spent some time in a juvenile facility for planning a different girl’s murder and for keeping a gun in his middle school locker. The Department of Corrections released him for the summer, promising to give him his freedom for good if he could behave himself. Larson suspects that if he were given that third chance, he would kill again.


Larson said she has forgiven, not forgotten, her daughter’s killer for her own sake even though she said he has never apologized to her family. She said she has no animosity toward his family because she, more than the ordinary mother, can empathize with losing a child.

Bishop-Jenkins agreed that mistakes can occur in the criminal justice system, which like any other complex human institution is vulnerable to miscarriage of justice. Adolfo Davis, for example, deserves a certain degree of clemency, she said.

“I think we could all agree that he may have been over-sentenced for his intent,” Bishop-Jenkins said. “Yes he was a 15-year-old co-conspirator and he was involved in talking about killing, but should he have been living life without parole? Probably not,” she said. “There is a reasonable way out, absolutely.”

But what frustrates Bishop-Jenkins most as a victim rights activist is the lack of formal invitation of victims’ families to negotiations between advocates for juvenile sentencing reforms and the state. She requests that lawyers working on cases that pertain to victims’ families notify them of the potential impact of legislation changes because for her personally, the right to information is the only thing that helps to process the trauma of reliving her sister’s murder.

Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center is one major advocate of juvenile life without parole reform and so is Human Rights Watch. Representatives occasionally update Bishop-Jenkins on status updates, but she believes there is not enough cooperation among all pertinent stakeholders on the issue of juvenile life without parole.

Human Rights Watch’s Chicago director, Jobi Cates, said she doesn’t want to diminish the pain that victims’ families go through, but she is charged to work within her mandate for her immediate clients.

“We can never make up for the pain that victim family members experience — it is one of the most difficult aspects of working on this issue,” Cates wrote to The Chicago Bureau. “But we have to balance that with the importance of our mandate, which is to ensure that children in the care of the state have a chance to rehabilitate in accordance with brain science, the international convention on the rights of the child, and the 8th Amendment.”

Julie Anderson and other relatives of those incarcerated have never met directly with Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins and her organization for the families of victims, but they have come head to head in Springfield to lobby on opposite sides of the case for juvenile life without parole reform. In those instances, they see each other across the aisle, watch each other seek out reporters and insert themselves in front of cameras. There is the understanding that their efforts, though contradictory, are mutually motivated by the love of their children.

To free or not to free: Giving juvenile murderers a second chance

The ‘most violent offenders’

Without taking a specific legal position, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers says it supports the widest possible range of sentencing options, including life without parole.

The group’s website says that “punishment for such serious crimes should be based on the culpability of the offender — their knowledge, premeditation, their intent, their disregard for human life, their individual circumstances, their consent, their choices, their actions, and the harm that they cause. Exterior factors such as their chronological age should not be the sole consideration.”

“JLWOP is a rare and serious sentence reserved for some of the nation’s most violent offenders,” says the organization. “Most JLWOP offenders have been incarcerated for committing unimaginably horrific and aggravated murders or multiple murders.”

“We recognize that throughout the criminal justice system there are some that are unjustly and inappropriately sentenced. The system provides means such as defense, appeals, clemency, etc., to try to prevent this from happening, and to correct it when it does.”

Woodbury family terrified that daughter’s killer may be paroled

Clasping his big hands in anger, Jim Stuedemann talked about the rage he felt 13 years ago when he saw his daughter’s killer in the courtroom.

“I stared daggers at him. My one great regret in life is that I didn’t kill him the first time I saw him,” Stuedemann said of Tony Roman Nose, who was 17 when he stabbed and raped 18-year-old Jolene ­Stuedemann in a vicious attack in her family’s Woodbury home in 2000.

“I thought, ‘I could take care of this now.’ My eyes must have lit up or something because as I watched, the bailiff to my right looked at me and shook his head no.”

Roman Nose, convicted of first-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct, was sentenced to life in prison without hope of parole — or so the Stuedemann family thought.

Now, because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Jim and Jeanne Stuedemann and their surviving daughter, Jessica, find themselves living the nightmare all over again.

In a swift change of legal fate, Roman Nose could leave prison after he serves 30 years, in 2031. The thought terrifies the ­Stuedemanns, who believe he will kill again and that he will target Jeanne or Jessica.

“We don’t believe that he should ever be let out,” Jim Stuedemann said. “No family should ever have to go through what we went through. As long as there’s a chance that he could re­offend, just having the potential is nerve-wracking.”

A legal quandary

The Roman Nose case re-emerged in 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs. Alabama that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory sentences for juveniles who commit murder and that judges should decide whether life sentences should include parole.

About 2,500 teenage murderers nationwide are sentenced to prison without parole.

After a Washington County district judge resentenced Roman Nose to prison with the possibility of release after 30 years, the county attorney’s office appealed the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court on grounds that the judge didn’t allow a hearing to determine whether a reduced sentence was justified.

A second legal question, said County Attorney Pete Orput, is why retroactive sentences should be granted even though the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t address that issue. Orput solidly backs the family’s position.

“If I take someone else’s life, do I get the opportunity to enjoy mine?” he said last week. “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.’ “

Roman Nose, now 31, is one of eight teenage murderers in Minnesota who went to prison before the Miller ruling and could be affected by it. Collectively, they killed 10 people.

Timothy Chambers was 17 when he rammed a stolen car into the squad car of a Rice County deputy, killing him. After Miller, he appealed to the state Supreme Court for a reduced sentence but was denied. But the Roman Nose appeal raises questions about whether the Chambers ruling would apply to all types of first-degree murder.

Meanwhile, two bills before the Legislature seek to mitigate state law requiring prison without parole for teenagers who commit first-degree murder. Neither has gained much traction.

“The thinking is that juveniles don’t have a fully developed mind and they’re prone to impulsive and stupid acts and that should be factored in,” Orput said. “But I think the bigger question is, where is that line between immature and mature? What about two months before you’re 18? Two weeks before you’re 18? Is there something magic about the number 18? …

“Can someone, a kid or adult, do something so ­heinous that they forfeit their right to be a part of society? I think that’s the big question.”

Torture and nightmares

Jim and Jeanne Stuedemann were vacationing in northern Minnesota in July 2000 when Jessica found Jolene’s body. She had been stabbed 29 times with a screwdriver and raped. Roman Nose crammed news­paper into her mouth and throat to stifle her screams.

Jolene and Roman Nose were students at an alternative school in Cottage Grove, but knew each other only as acquaintances. During a recent hearing before the state Supreme Court, public defender Steven Russett said Roman Nose was “immature and suffered from poor judgment” when he committed the crime, and noted a dysfunctional childhood and fetal alcohol struggles. Russett couldn’t be reached for comment.

Minnesota Department of Corrections records show that Roman Nose has committed 15 violations at Oak Park Heights prison, including disorderly conduct, disobeying direct orders and assaulting another inmate. Some violations were serious enough that he served time in segregation.

Jim Stuedemann recalled what the medical examiner told him during the trial.

“He said very rarely does he have autopsies with that amount of injuries that were suffered,” Stuedemann said, his eyes filling with tears. “He said it was borderline torture. I asked him if she died quickly and he said no.”

Liz Hare, president of the National Organization of ­Victims of Juvenile Murderers, said it’s critically important for families to know that killers will remain in custody and never threaten anyone again.

‘Unnecessary suffering’

“There’s unnecessary suffering caused by Miller vs. Alabama,” said Hare, who lives in Minnesota. “They have to relive that whole experience all over again. There are hundreds of people who will have to face the offender again.”

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, director of Marsy’s Law for Illinois, a group that advocates for the rights of crime victims, said the law should take care of victims’ families more than teenage murderers.

“All of this focus is on the killer, the poor killer, the young killer,” she said. “There aren’t any words to tell you how bad it is. It’s retraumatizing. It’s torture. It’s a nightmare. There aren’t strong-enough words. To never have any legal finality in the case and have to keep ­revisiting it is nothing short of a torturous nightmare.”

Jim Stuedemann said he wishes he could post Jolene’s photo in Roman Nose’s cell to remind him of her “bright smile and sparkling eyes every day and know what he took.”

Of Roman Nose, he added: “He should never have hope.”

Staff writer Kevin Giles contributed to this article.

Callie Sacarelos is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.


But not everyone thinks life behind bars is a bad idea. Some victim’s advocates say murder is murder: A 15-year-old knows full well it’s wrong to kill another human being, and should be held responsible. 

Victims of a crime sometimes give “victim impact statements” during court sentencings. In December, Laura Haynes Shimek gave a statement to the court during the resentencing hearing of the woman who killed her mother 20 years ago. At the time of the attack, the murderer was 14. She originally faced life without parole, but was resentenced last year. “My children are now sentenced to life fighting that possible parole,” wrote Haynes Shimek on the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers website.

Like plenty of what’s been writ in legalese, it’s not so easy to unravel what’s been passed by legislatures. Supreme Court cases in 2010 and 2012 both ruled against life without parole for juveniles. Changing laws, and changing social norms, mean fewer young people are sentenced to life these days.

States differ in applying the SCOTUS rulings. So best to train your eyes on the Nine, dear court watchers, in the near future (says Nellis). Cases are already winding their way through state courts: Just a few weeks ago, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that such offenders deserve resentencing hearings, while Michigan’s judiciary is weighing the question right now. 

But clarity on the federal level could take years neither the teenage murderers, nor their victims, want — for very different reasons.

No life sentence for Flint man who killed elderly woman when he was 14

FLINT, MI — A Flint man who killed an elderly woman when he was 14 was spared life in prison Friday, May 9, becoming the first person sentenced in Genesee County under a new law that gives judges more leeway in juvenile murder cases.

Genesee Circuit Judge Archie Hayman sentenced Mark Anthony Jones Jr. Friday, May 9, to 40-60 years in prison after he was convicted of first-degree felony murder for the Nov. 16, 2010, fatal shooting and robbery of 73-year-old Merlyne Wray.

Jones, 18, is the first person in Genesee County to have his murder sentence lessened following a law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year.

Under the old law, Hayman would have had to sentence Jones to either life or life without parole.

Wray’s family said they would liked a longer sentence.

“We were hoping for life without parole,” Wray’s granddaughter, Karen Kluten, said after Hayman handed down the sentence. “I’d liked to watch his face when they said that.”

Hayman was forced to decide on what type of sentence he would issue Jones following a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that declared mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles unconstitutional.

Felony murder carries a statutory sentence of life in prison without parole for adults, but the law Snyder signed in March gave judges the discretion to sentence teen killers to life in prison or 25 to more than 60 years in prison in light of the Supreme Court decision.

“Mark Jones walked into the home of Merlyne Wray, killed her in cold blood with a single gunshot to her back, stole her wallet, car, and other items and left her body in a reclining chair where she was found by her son-in-law the next day,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said. “Our position is that, taken in its entirety, with the facts of this case and Mark Jones’ background, a life sentence without parole would have been appropriate in the interests of justice and public safety.”

Genesee Circuit Judge Archie Hayman listened to two days of testimony during a sentencing hearing in March, which included a school official, psychologist, police officer and Jones’ parents, in order to help him decide what type of sentence to hand down Jones — who was only 14 when he killed Wray.

Hayman said that Jones had no chance of becoming a productive member of society due to his father being in prison most of his life and his mother letting him live “out of control.”

While Hayman said that it was Jones who made the decision to kill Wray on his own, his parents share much of the responsibility for what happened due to his poor upbringing.

“They were not there for him in the way they should have been,” Hayman said of Jones’ parents.

Hayman also said he believes Jones is capable of turning his life around.

Jones’ mother, Tiniya Tyler, said she was not happy with the outcome of the case. She testified previously that she felt her son was not responsible for Wray’s death.

“I didn’t like it,” Tyler said after the sentencing hearing, claiming that her son’s attorneys failed to call witnesses she provided in the case. “It’s all a setup.”

Attorneys Major White and Jessica Mainprize-Hajek, who represented Jones, asked Hayman to forgo life in prison and sentence their client to a term of years, claiming that life in prison for a crime committed at 14 is cruel and unusual punishment.

The pair argued that Jones is a product of his environment, but that he still has the capacity to be rehabilitated.

Hayman said that Jones’ age was not a factor in his decision, noting that a 14-year-old understands the dangers of a gun and the difference between life and death.

Jones’ attorneys declined to comment after the sentencing.

Kluten had strong words for her grandmother’s murderer before Hayman handed down his sentence, calling Jones a “cold-blooded killer” who could kill again.

“Don’t make another family endure this torture,” Kluten said.

Kluten said her grandmother was always willing to help people and was known as the “candy lady” around the neighborhood.

“My grandma would have given him her money, her car to spare her life,” Kluten said.

Jones apologized briefly before he was sentenced.

“I just want to tell the family that I’m sorry,” Jones said.

Wray’s body was found in her Leland Street home, near Atherton and Fenton roads, by her son-in-law the day after the shooting. She was found in a reclining chair with a bullet wound to her back. Her vehicle and other items, including her wallet and cell phone, were also missing.

Authorities said Jones attempted to use Wray’s credit card the day after the killing.

Hayman also sentenced Jones to 23 years, nine months to 38 years, four months in prison for armed robbery and carjacking. He was sentenced to 2-5 years for carrying a concealed weapon and a breaking and entering charge. Those sentences will be served concurrent to the murder charge.

Jones was also given a two-year consecutive felony firearm sentence.

Jones was the second teen facing life in prison without parole to be sentenced in Genesee County following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

Jody Robinson, co-founder of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, said she has faith Hayman made the right decision in his sentence but added that Wray’s family will have to relive her death when Jones goes in front of the parole board.

“For the victims, it is very hard,” Robinson said.

Hayman also heard the case of Juwan Wickware, the first juvenile in the state facing the possibility of life without parole following the high court’s ruling.

Wickware, 19, was convicted of first-degree felony murder in August 2012 in the 2010 shooting death of 33-year-old pizza delivery driver Michael Nettles on the city’s north side. Wickware was 16 at the time of Nettles’ death.

Hayman sentenced him to life in prison without parole. His case is currently pending in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Would You Let This Man Go Free?

As a teenager, Greg Diatchenko was convicted of murder and given the mandatory sentence: life without parole. Now science, and the courts, could give him another chance.

by BETH SCHWARTZAPFEL· 7/22/2014, 5:05 a.m.

Recognizing the emerging science that shows a child’s brain is not fully developed by the age of 18, courts are increasingly reluctant to give teenagers sentences that can never be revisited. But the notion that teenagers should not be held fully responsible for their actions doesn’t sit right with everyone. The victim advocacy group National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers takes issue with what one University of Pennsylvania criminology professor has called “brain overclaim syndrome.” As the group writes on its website, “development is not all one thing—it is complex. It is hormonal, sexual, social, cognitive, emotional. Good judgment and good behavior do not come only from the frontal lobe.”

The court’s reasoning can be hard to square with the reality of a brutal crime. Last year, Massachusetts residents were shocked when Colleen Ritzer, a beloved 24-year-old math teacher, was found dead in the woods behind Danvers High School. Shortly after police arrested her then-14-year-old student Philip Chism for the murder, the Supreme Judicial Court outlawed life without parole for juveniles. If convicted, Chism will face a life sentence. But because of the state court’s ruling in Diatchenko, he’d be eligible for parole after 15 years. Feeling betrayed, Ritzer’s family issued a statement: “There will never be ‘parole’ for our family’s life sentence without Colleen.”

Recently, several victims’ families have worked together to ensure their loved ones’ killers never get out. In February, the family of Beth Brodie, who was 15 when she was beaten to death by a classmate in 1992, held a candlelight vigil to protest parole for her killer. Three months later, Brodie’s family and others delivered a petition with 15,000 signatures to Governor Patrick, urging him to limit the new ruling’s application. “To prepare for a parole hearing every three to five years retraumatizes victims’ families over and over again,” Brodie’s brother Sean Aylward told me.

Young Souls, Dark Deeds

New York Times

As people whose loved ones were murdered by youths under the age of 18, it saddens us to see that the age of the offender often garners more attention than the crime itself. The word “child” is used sensationally, but these children commit some of the most horrific murders imaginable.

Juvenile offenders often suffer from psychological and socipopathic conditions that will never allow them to rejoin society.

Each crime and criminal is unique, and each punishment should be decided on a case by case basis. The decision belongs to us all in a democracy – to the legislatures, the courts and the legal experts familiar with the facts of each case. Even removing the possibility of life sentencing for juveniles ties the hands of the courts and puts public safety at risk.

We must fix the problems in our society that lead to violence and we must constantly reform human institutions like the criminal justice system. But we must keep one important question in the front of our minds: Can children as young as 10 commit a cold, calculated murder? At such a tender age can an offender be so dangerous that they should be removed from society?

There is no denying that the answer sometimes is yes. Juvenile offenders often suffer from psychological and sociopathic conditions that will never allow them to rejoin society.

While juvenile advocates often note that a youth’s brain is still developing, we all learn from an extremely early age that killing is wrong. Our organization takes no position on the age at which children could be tried as adults. But even an extremely troubled preteen can understand that taking a life is fundamentally unacceptable. While youths often make capricious decisions without regard to consequences, one cannot say that a preteen who contemplates and carries out the murder of another human being is never responsible.

We find it tragic that sometimes youths in our nation are capable of such brutal crimes. We find it tragic anyone is capable of them. While we as a society must look to prevention, we must not turn a blind eye to the issue at hand.

The United States separated the juvenile and criminal justice system in our nation over a century ago. What offender advocates claim is sentencing “children” as adults is largely a debate of semantics. We are not a faulty nation because we see that some offenders who commit brutal murders must be removed from society.

Well-funded youth advocates are working to make bringing juveniles who murder to adult court even harder, if not impossible. Often those who have paid the ultimate price, the victims, are overlooked.

A system where courts are allowed to look at all the factors in a crime, determining the best punishment and the best outcome for public safety, is a system that works.

US teenage lifers – children sentenced to jail forever

By Andrew Purcell

January 15, 2015

In December 2014, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case, Toca v Louisiana, that should decide whether the Miller decision will be back-dated. If it goes the same way as Simmons, Graham and Miller, all of which were 5-4 decisions carried by the Supreme Court’s liberal minority, plus Justice Kennedy, all five hundred of Pennsylvania’s teenage lifers, and another fifteen hundred across the USA, will need to be re-sentenced – not just worthy candidates like Pace but rapists, torturers, child abusers and cop killers too.

To the National Organisation of the Victims of Juvenile Murderers, that is an appalling prospect. Darryl Romig Sr’s twelve-year-old daughter, Danni Rees, was raped and strangled by a seventeen-year-old boy, Brian Bahr.

“If they go back and re-sentence these kids, all the victims are going to have to go through it all again. It’s going to open a lot of wounds,” Romig says. “I don’t get to see my daughter grow up. Why should the boy have the right to be put away and then, somewhere down the line, come back out?”

In his dissent to the Miller ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the US Constitution has no regard for a defendant’s age. “Perhaps science and policy suggest society should show greater mercy to young killers … But that is not our decision to make,” he wrote. “A decent society protects the innocent from violence. A mature society may determine that this requires removing those guilty of the most heinous murders from its midst.”

He also wondered where the majority’s reasoning would lead: “Unless confined, the only stopping point for the Court’s analysis would be never permitting juvenile offenders to be tried as adults.” This is the great hope of criminal justice reformers, and the great fear of the ‘tough on crime’ lobby.

Former Shaler woman confronting ‘surreal’ justice system

CHRIS TOGNERI | Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bobbi Jamriska visited the Elliot schoolyard just once, a couple of months after her little sister’s murder.

“I saw the bloody handprint on the wall,” Jamriska said. “I went alone. It was surreal, standing there, trying to imagine what it must have been like for her. What must she have thought … on the ground, bleeding to death, after he zipped her coat up to cover the blood and then walked away?”

Jamriska was 22 in 1993 when her sister, Kristina Grill, met boyfriend Maurice Bailey at the schoolyard to tell him she was five months pregnant. They were 15.

Grill’s severely beaten body, 11 stab wounds around her neck, was found that night. Investigators saw bloody shoeprints on her abdomen, as if Bailey was intent on killing their unborn baby, too.

As grisly as the details are, Jamriska, 43, who moved recently from Shaler to Myrtle Beach, S.C., learned to live with them.

Bailey, tried as an adult, was convicted of first-degree murder. He received the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

So Jamriska began dealing with her own demons.

First, the nightmares: “I’d be approaching her from behind, and when she turned around it’d be what she looked like in the photos they showed at the trial — all beat up, black and blue, bloody. That happened for a while.”

Then she faced down panic attacks: “They were almost paralyzing. I still have Xanax.”

In time, she learned to live “not beyond it but with it, as a part of me.”

Then came the letter from the state’s Office of the Victim Advocate, dated Aug. 22, 2008.

Earlier that year, a study by the University of San Francisco questioned the practice of sentencing juveniles to life in prison. Only America and Israel permit such sentences, the study reported. Pennsylvania had about one-fifth of the country’s 2,381 juvenile lifers.

Human-rights advocates called the sentences barbaric. Politicians held hearings. The letter invited Jamriska and others to speak at the first hearing in Harrisburg.

“That’s what ripped this back open,” she recalled. “I was all over the place. Minute to minute, I could be angry, I could be in a ball in a corner crying, and then indignant … finally I thought, ‘I can’t just let this happen and not say anything.’ ”

She went for the other victims’ families. As vice president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, she recounted her sister’s gruesome murder so that those who could not endure such memories wouldn’t have to. She attended hearings in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Washington.

“I’d like to start by telling you about my little sister,” Jamriska testified in Harrisburg on Sept. 22, 2008. “Inmate #CS9937 brutally murdered her. … As her killer watched her bleed to death in the schoolyard, he later described her body as ‘twitching’ as he zipped up her jacket to ebb the flow of blood from her neck.”

She feels isolated at such hearings: The other side has experts decrying juvenile life sentences as cruel, unethical; then she takes the microphone to say, Actually, some kids do deserve to be put away forever.

“It seems surreal, made-up,” she said. “There’s no possible way that I’m walking into this room full of people who somehow feel like I’m the bad guy because I want this person who killed my sister to stay in jail. But that’s what it feels like. It feels like it never ends. It’s exhausting.”

Pennsylvania automatically charges accused murderers as adults; lawyers must ask a judge to move cases to juvenile court. Life without parole is mandatory for a murder conviction.

Opponents of juvenile life sentences mention cases such as one involving a 16-year-old lookout in a robbery gone wrong who never held a gun. They don’t mention cases such as Kristina Grill and the bloody footprint on her pregnant belly.

“I’m not sure where the script got flipped and he became the victim,” Jamriska said. “He’s not the victim. My sister was the victim. He beat her, he stepped on her, he left her for dead.

“… You can watch the story on the news and think you know for certain what should happen, but until you’ve been in it yourself, until you sit in that courtroom and look at pictures of your dead sister and listen to descriptions of how she left this earth, I don’t think you can form that opinion.”

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional because they are cruel and unusual punishment. The court must decide whether to make its ruling retroactive — and whether Bailey and others will be resentenced.

As Jamriska awaits that ruling, she considers whether she will again testify if Inmate #CS9937 gets a resentencing hearing.

“What must it have been like to lie there all alone and bleed to death on the cold, hard ground, and to know that the person you love more than anybody in the world did this to you? Because it’s clear from her diary” — used as evidence in the trial — “that she was just head-over-heels, full-blown in love with him. That’s what I think about.”

She stopped talking and stared ahead, unblinking.

Twenty-one seconds of silence later, she added: “It’s dark.”

California inmate’s parole reflects rethinking of life terms for youths


MARCH 24, 2015

The California legislation, SB 9 — which comes into effect as Gov. Jerry Brown has been paroling more “lifers,” including adults convicted of murder — shows how the state has “evolved,” said Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch.

“It really shows that California is on the right track,” she said, “that it’s trying to shape its laws with what we know is true: That young people have a capacity to turn around their lives.”

But Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, who helped found the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, said she was concerned about setting violent offenders back into the community.

“If anybody dies because this guy got let out, what are you going to say to those people?” said Bishop-Jenkins, whose pregnant sister and her husband were killed in 1990 by a 16-year-old in a suburb of Chicago. “I know everyone loves to believe every human being is fixable. I used to believe that — sadly, I know differently now.”

A Murderer at 14, Then a Lifer, Now a Man Pondering a Future

By Erik Eckholm

  • April 10, 2015
  • Here and around the country, victim rights groups have strongly opposed the reopening of past sentences.“The families of the victims will suffer the most,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, a co-founder and board member of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers.She became a champion of victim rights 25 years ago when her pregnant sister and her sister’s husband were murdered in Winnetka, Ill., by a 16-year-old who received a mandatory life sentence.

    “When I started thinking of the possibility that we’d have to go back to court, I couldn’t sleep for four months,” she said. “Our mother was devastated.”

    A new sentencing hearing in that case is scheduled for this month. While Ms. Bishop-Jenkins feels confident that the killer, because of the particulars of his acts, will have the life sentence renewed, she noted that the transcript of his original sentencing hearing was missing and that key witnesses were dead or gone.

    Re-creating a fair sentencing process is often impossible in old cases, she said, and there are ample existing ways to pursue what seem to be unwarranted life sentences, such as executive clemency or other petitions.Young killers who stay in juvenile court take vastly different paths

Young killers who stay in juvenile court take vastly different paths

JUN 12, 2015

Weighing rights of victims, too

Another juvenile killer who got mandatory life in prison — but who will soon be resentenced by court order — is David Biro.

Biro was 16 in 1990 when he led a pregnant Nancy Langert and her husband Richard to the basement of their Winnetka home and shot them as they begged for their lives.

While Nancy’s sister Jeanne Bishop wrote a book about finding forgiveness for Biro, another sister, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, was spurred to become a victims’ rights advocate.

“If a teenager murders your loved one … or an adult murders your loved one, it feels the same to us,” she said. “It feels as hurtful. It’s as traumatizing. It’s as life-changing”

Yet Bishop-Jenkins supports juvenile reform initiatives. She said the changes to the automatic transfer law that have passed the General Assembly strike the right balance by allowing less serious cases to remain under juvenile jurisdiction but moving the more heinous, violent offenders to adult court.

The original bill called for an end to all automatic transfers to adult court. After pushback primarily from county prosecutors around the state, a compromise emerged that would eliminate automatic transfers for 15-year-olds and limit them for older teens to the most serious crimes.

“We don’t believe in a system that would allow somebody to be the trigger person at age 17 and then get as few as four years in prison,” said Matt Jones, legislative director of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association.

Those on both sides of the debate agree that a lack of state data on automatic transfer cases is a problem.

Those convicted as juveniles who are serving life without parole hope the court will go back in time


SEPTEMBER 1, 2015, 4:50 AM CDT


There’s something else to consider, Mahadev says. It shouldn’t be surprising that a young person who goes to prison gets into trouble because of the new traumas they may experience. “Prison is not good for kids. There’s tons of research that shows prison environments are incredibly traumatic—for everybody, but for children in particular,” she says.

“What gives me hope is that despite that environment, you see rehabilitation; you see extraordinary change. We expect that. We expect they’re going to be different at 30 to 40 years old as opposed to at 15.”

Yet resentencing hearings can raise a host of problems, especially when decades have passed since the crime and the offender is well into adulthood. Witnesses’ memories become foggy and many involved in the case may no longer be available. And for victims’ families, a resentencing hearing can reopen painful wounds.

“My heart breaks for the victims in those states that have to go through that agony again,” says Jody Robinson, whose brother, James Cotaling, was slain in 1990 by a man and his 16-year-old girlfriend, both of whom are serving mandatory life without parole in Michigan.

Robinson hopes the court will clarify Miller by not requiring states to hold resentencing hearings for those already serving life without parole, including the woman who killed her brother. “My case is 25 years old. What they’re asking to do is to go back and re-create it all. Then it becomes one story against another about all of these facts,” she says. “I ask the courts: Is it really worth it? Is it really worth the pain and suffering the families will be going through again?”

Robinson, who is president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, says that she and other victims’ families should not have to endure going back to court. “I’ve had my 80-year-old dad ask, ‘Am I going to put my son to rest before I die?’ That’s very hard,” she says. “It’s always about the offender wanting a second chance. We want a second chance to be with my brother. They talk about cruel and unusual punishment. If you want to talk about cruel and unusual punishment, you have to walk in my shoes.”

In March, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, a Washington-based national coalition that supports age-appropriate sentences for youths, issued a new set of guidelines for defense attorneys representing juveniles serving life without parole.

“We have adopted many of the same principles in the ABA’s capital defense guidelines,” says Heather Renwick, the group’s litigation counsel and primary author of the guidelines. “The defense teams should have experience with children.” She adds, “Sentencing children to life without parole is tantamount to sentencing them to death.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Getting a Second Chance—Again: Those convicted as juveniles who are serving life without parole hope the court will go back in time.”

Youth advocates are seizing on bipartisan interest in criminal justice reform and historically low crime rates to lobby states to lighten sentencing standards for juveniles. They also advocate more efforts to prepare troubled teenagers — even those convicted of the most violent crimes — to be productive members of society. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life terms without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, and this fall it will hear a case on whether to make that decision retroactive for adult prisoners who committed their crimes as juveniles. But prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates say youths still must be held accountable for their crimes and judges should be able to refer repeat and violent offenders to adult court. Forming a backdrop to the debate is neuroscientific research on adolescent brain development that indicates juveniles’ reasoning abilities and impulse control are limited well into their 20s. The research also suggests that they can change their behavior, raising questions about youths’ culpability and likelihood of rehabilitation.

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Fifteen-year-old Adrian Jere Gonzalez of Santa Cruz, Calif., lured his 8-year-old neighbor to his family’s apartment last July, then raped and killed her, according to police.1

Gonzalez was soon arrested, and the district attorney charged him as an adult for murder, sexual assault and kidnapping. Youth advocacy groups immediately criticized the prosecutor’s decision to send the boy to criminal court, where he could be subject to a much longer sentence than in juvenile court.2

“When you have somebody as young as 15, this shouldn’t just be decided arbitrarily by a district attorney but by a judge in a hearing hopefully informed by experts in adolescent psychology and psychiatry,” says Barry Krisberg, director of research and policy at the University of California-Berkeley’s Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy.

But victims’ rights advocates say a teen accused of such a heinous act should be tried in adult court. “He knew what he was doing; he has to be held accountable,” says Harriet Salarno, board chairperson of Crime Victims United of California, a nonprofit in Auburn that advocates on behalf of crime victims. She says a jury — not available in juvenile court — should be able to decide the case.

The dispute highlights a growing debate about how state judicial systems handle minors who get into trouble. At a time of declining youth crime, many lawmakers, psychologists and advocates for juveniles want to reform heavily punitive systems to take into account neuroscientific research showing adolescents have limited reasoning abilities but are greatly amenable to rehabilitation. The reformers are lobbying for states to focus on the juvenile justice system’s founding ideal of keeping young offenders in family courts, where their sentences can involve rehabilitation rather than simply punishment and incarceration in large state prisons far from home.

“Kids are not just small adults,” says Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group for The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private Baltimore-based philanthropy that focuses on issues affecting children. “Not only do they look different, but they are different.”

Yet some prosecutors, legal experts and victims’ rights advocates contend that youth crime is down precisely because of the deterrence of harsh punishments. Juvenile offenders, particularly the most violent, must be held accountable and public safety must remain a priority, they say.

“Even a 5-year-old knows it’s wrong to kill people,” says Steven Erickson, a forensic scientist in York, Pa.

State laws vary on when and how juveniles can be sent to adult criminal court, where they could face the same punishment as adults, including life in prison. For example, in Wisconsin, 10-year-olds charged with murder can be sent to adult criminal court. New York and North Carolina treat all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, regardless of the crime. California allows prosecutors to decide whether to charge a 14-year-old as an adult for murder or other violent offenses, while juvenile court judges in Alaska and Washington can send a child of any age to adult court for any criminal offense. Often, juveniles convicted as adults begin their sentences in a juvenile facility and are transferred, usually at age 18 or 21, to an adult facility.3

In the early 20th century, most states automatically dealt with youths under 18 in juvenile court, where judges could decide to transfer them to adult court. Then, in the early 1990s after juvenile crime began to rise and some political scientists warned of a coming wave of “brutally remorseless” young “super-predators,” legislatures began cracking down on young offenders.4

However, the predicted wave of super-predator criminality never developed, and juvenile crime in fact began declining after spiking in the mid-1990s. By 2010, the number of juveniles arrested was down 21 percent from 2001. By 2003, homicides committed by youths had dropped to the lowest level since 1980. And after an uptick between 2003 and 2006, juvenile arrests fell in 2012 to their lowest level in 33 years.5 Likewise, the number of youths detained in juvenile facilities fell about 50 percent between 1999 and 2013.6

Theories vary on the reasons for the declines. “Crime rates are down because we’ve had a system of increasing consequences,” says Michael Rushford, president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a group of legal and academic experts that supports tougher prosecution and sentencing. But Krisberg cites improved economic circumstances, more early-childhood education, fewer gangs and less reliance by schools and law enforcement on 1990s-era “zero tolerance” policies in dealing with juvenile delinquency.7

Experts cite similar reasons for the drop in juvenile detentions, and they say dwindling state budgets made authorities more willing to divert youths to community rehabilitation programs instead of expensive state-run detention facilities. In addition, lawsuits alleging overcrowding or abuse in such facilities forced some states to seek other alternatives.8

Meanwhile, reports indicate that juvenile detainees are often physically or sexually abused by guards or other inmates. For example:

  • The Casey foundation recently found systemic “maltreatment” of youths in juvenile facilities in 29 states since 2000.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 reported that male juveniles at New York City’s Rikers Island detention facilities were routinely abused by guards and other inmates.
  • Also in 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union reported about harm caused by solitary confinement, widely used as a punishment in juvenile facilities and to protect juveniles in adult facilities from the regular prisoner population.9

Nell Bernstein, an investigative reporter and author of the 2014 book Burning Down the House, found that youth in juvenile facilities receive limited education and counseling — and even less in adult facilities — although judges often believe teens will be rehabilitated so they can re-enter their communities.10

Punitive sentencing of young offenders is contrary to the founding principle of the juvenile justice system to rehabilitate delinquent youths, reform advocates say. And, recent neuroscientific research bolsters their argument that young people should be handled differently than adults, they say.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the adolescent brain has shown that the prefrontal cortex — responsible for cognitive processing, reasoning and self-regulation — does not fully develop until youths are in their early- to mid-20s, researchers say. Thus, they add, adolescents are highly susceptible to peer pressure and unlikely to consider long-term consequences, making them potentially less culpable for their crimes.11

“There’s a reason that kids do incredibly stupid things, especially when they are in a group,” says Kathleen R. DeCataldo, executive director of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children.

But some prosecutors and psychologists say brain research does not prove that youths who commit violent crimes cannot control their actions and shouldn’t be punished as adults. Further, such a philosophy “doesn’t lead people to be able to take responsibility for their actions and choices in life,” says Nita Farahany, a law and philosophy professor at Duke University.

Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg says that while the research may not prove juveniles lack culpability, it shows promise that they can be rehabilitated. In his 2014 book, Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, Steinberg described adolescence as a period of “brain reorganization,” when the mind is easily influenced and shaped by outside factors.12

Such research shows that youths should not be punished the same as adults and need counseling to change their behavior, says Michael Harris, senior attorney for the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Youth Law, which provides legal resources for child advocates. “No young person should be tried in adult court,” he says. “It’s more counterproductive than going through the juvenile justice system, and nothing is done to help them become productive citizens.”

Youth advocates also say juveniles should not face life sentences without the possibility of parole. Given young peoples’ “unique capacity to change,” accountability measures “should focus on rehabilitation,” says Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator of the Baltimore-based Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

But Charles “Cully” Stimson, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, stands by his opposition to that approach, as reflected in his 2009 report: “Adult Time for Adult Crimes.”

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, declared it unconstitutional for states to make it mandatory for juveniles found guilty of certain crimes to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole.13 Since then, states and courts have disagreed on whether that ruling should apply to sentences imposed before 2012. The high court is expected to rule on that issue this fall.14

As reform advocates, legislators, psychologists and lawyers continue to debate how the justice system should handle youths, they are focusing on these key issues:

Does brain research prove adolescents are less culpable for their crimes?

Wallace Mlyniec, senior counsel at Georgetown University’s Juvenile Justice Clinic, says advances in brain imagery have helped researchers understand that the human brain continues to mature until about age 25, meaning adolescents are less able to make rational decisions.

“The cognitive part really is pretty good by the age of 16,” he says. “Most 16-year-olds have the cognitive capacity of adults, but they don’t have the impulse control, the decisionmaking ability, the experience to understand what is the consequence of their behavior, and they are influenced by peers in the ways adults are not.”

“The future, for a 15-year-old, is Friday night,” he says. Therefore, adolescents should not be held to the same standards of culpability as an adult, he contends.

The Supreme Court began suggesting that in its 1998 ruling in Thompson v. Oklahoma barring capital punishment for anyone under 16. “The susceptibility of juveniles to immature and irresponsible behavior means ‘their irresponsible conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult,’” the court stated. It reiterated this statement in 2005, when it banned the death penalty for juveniles under 18, and reaffirmed that stance in 2012, when it barred mandatory life sentences without parole for youths.

Harris, of the National Center for Youth Law, points out: “What we have learned … over the last couple of decades through research on adolescent brain development is that teenagers and adolescents are very susceptible to peer influence. They are very much thrill-seeking. And they do not have the ability to consider long-term consequences the same way an adult can.”

UC-Berkeley’s Krisberg is a strong proponent of adolescent brain research, saying it “puts a fine point on what we knew for a long time” about adolescent behavior. But, he warns, it should not be the only factor considered at trial. Lawyers on both sides in a case should be able to also provide psychological and psychiatric evaluations of the youth involved and information about his or her family and social background, and prior criminal convictions and evidence of motive, he says.

Sally Satel, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington and co-author of the 2013 book Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, says lawyers and psychologists rely too heavily on the rhetorical power of science to sway juries. “What we know from neuroscience does not deepen the picture” of why adolescents behave a certain way but only “adds new vocabulary,” she says. Further, she argues, neuroscience is not well enough advanced to explain culpability on a case-by-case basis.15

Erickson, the forensic scientist, agrees. “Most people in the system are impulsive, risk takers, [who] don’t see the future,” he says. “The Supreme Court said these qualities are what make juveniles less morally culpable. Then who in the criminal justice system is morally culpable?”

Likewise, says Duke’s Farahany, who serves on the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, the brain science “doesn’t tell us what competency an individual has, nor what competencies you have to have to be answerable to the law.”

Stephen Morse, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, warns against “brain-over-claim syndrome,” in which “people make claims based on the neuroscience that don’t follow from the neuroscience.” The “criteria for responsibility are entirely behavioral — meaning acts and mental states,” he says. “We don’t hold brains responsible; we hold people responsible.”

Society already knew that juveniles tend to be more impulsive and susceptible to peer pressure, he says. He objects to the argument that neuroscience shows that certain legal policies are necessary. Whether sentences for juvenile offenders should be mitigated is “not a scientific argument or question; it’s a moral and legal question.”

Temple psychology professor Steinberg agrees the science has only bolstered what society long knew about adolescent behavior, and that the science doesn’t mitigate youths’ culpability. Like Erickson, he asks, “If we argue that young people are less able to control their impulses, what do we do about adults who for some demonstrable reason have less ability to control their impulses?”

However, Steinberg says, “It’s not just that adolescents are less mature, it’s that adolescents are transient. A 30-year-old who has poor judgment and is short-sighted is always going to be that way.” But an adolescent could change, he maintains. Thus, he says, when deciding sentences, courts should consider research showing brains are malleable, and therefore youths can reform.16

“The brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity — and great risk,” Steinberg wrote in 2014. “If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they will flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.”17

DeCataldo, of New York’s commission on justice for children, uses adolescent brain research to teach legislators, educators and policymakers “that we can really change these kids.” She says the research shows that a youth development approach that involves input from a school and community “is so much more effective than a punitive approach.”

She adds: “I think people can come back from doing the most heinous acts.”

Should states raise the age at which juveniles can be charged as adults?

Based on recent brain research, justice reform advocates have been pushing states to raise the age at which juveniles can be charged for any offense in adult court, where they can be subject to lengthy or lifelong prison sentences,

“With all the research on the adolescent brain, the idea of treating a 16-year-old as an adult is a hard case to make,” says the Casey Foundation’s Balis.

Many advocates cite inconsistencies in U.S. laws regarding teens and young adults. “A society that tries 12-year-olds who commit serious crimes as adults because they are mature enough to ‘know better,’ but prohibits 20-year-olds from buying alcohol because they are too immature to handle it, is deeply confused about how to treat people in this age range,” Temple University’s Steinberg wrote in 2014.18

Youth advocates say when children under 18 are held in adult facilities they are exposed to harmful conditions, ranging from physical abuse by adult inmates to lengthy periods of solitary confinement. In 2010, for example, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island, an adult prison in New York City, after being accused of stealing a backpack. While awaiting trial in the adult system, he spent three years in jail, including nearly two in solitary confinement. He was released in late 2014 and committed suicide several months later.19

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that about 7,600 youths under 18 were held in adult facilities in 2010. That is far more than the 2,300 held in June 1999 but 20 percent fewer than the 9,500 held in 1990, when the juvenile population in adult prisons peaked. However, observers on both sides of the issue say reliable estimates are hard to collect because few courts keep records of the number of juveniles incarcerated with adults.20

Americans have “a deep cultural instinct to punish as a way of changing behavior,” says Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “And most people making decisions about policy are thinking about someone else’s kid,” not their own.

Such severe punishment for young people also doesn’t reliably change behavior, Butts and others say. The Department of Justice reported that six major studies found higher recidivism rates among juveniles convicted for violent offenses in criminal court when compared with similar offenders tried in juvenile court.21

Moreover, says DeCataldo of New York state’s commission on justice for children, “when kids go through adult facilities, they aren’t getting any type of education.” New York requires imprisoned youths to attend classes only until they are 16, she says.

Mlyniec, of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown University, says the juvenile system should change how it deals with typical adolescent behavior that can result in mistakes. He cites the experience of 19-year-old Zachery Anderson of Elkhart, Ind. Anderson met a girl on an online dating website who said she was 17 — a year above the age of consent in her home state of Michigan. Anderson eventually traveled to Michigan where the two had sex. However, it turned out she was 14. Originally convicted of criminal sexual conduct, Anderson would have been placed on a sex offender registry. Mlyniec asks, “Should it even be a crime?” — a question many observers asked, prompting a district court judge in September to vacate the sentence. A new judge will consider whether to sentence Anderson under a Michigan law for youthful offenders and not place his name on the state’s sex offender registry.22

Judges sometimes impose overly harsh sentences, and youths should not be incarcerated with adults, says Heritage’s Stimson. But “first-degree murder is still first-degree murder,” he says. “It’s not debatable the brain is developing, but whether at some point in the development [adolescents] can appreciate the difference of right and wrong.”

Forensic scientist Erickson doesn’t entirely agree. He says, “It’s fine to have a system that wants to treat juveniles differently” for such crimes as theft. “But when you are talking about murder, that’s different. Retribution has to be part of the criminal justice system; we punish them because they deserve it.”

Juries should consider each case individually, says Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “A major focus of the trial is the age of the defendant,” he says. “So let the jury look at the case on its own merits.”

A major worry is that a violent youth could hurt someone else, says Steve Doell, president of the Oregon chapter of Crime Victims United. In a recent Oregon case, a juvenile who had been charged with burglary and harassment was treated as a low-level offender, but later raped a 39-year-old woman and killed a 29-year-old woman, he says.23

For a crime victim, or for the surviving family members, “it really doesn’t make any difference if the person is 16, 24 or 66 years old,” Doell says. “You have got the same result; you have got the family member that’s been raped, you have got a family member that’s dead at the hands of another person.”

Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat and strong proponent of justice reforms, says legislators should carefully consider the consequences of changing laws. “Advocates say the poor 17-year-old shouldn’t be in [facilities] with adults,” Whitmire says. “But if you put him in a juvenile facility, what about my 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds? You want to protect them from 17-year-olds.”

Further, if all 17-year-olds typically charged as adults in Texas — about 26,000 last year — are handled in the juvenile system, he says, “it will crash the system. I’m actually trying to depopulate the juvenile system.”

Should juveniles be sentenced to life in prison without parole?

Many youth advocacy groups balk at the prospect of young people facing life sentences without the possibility of parole. “The idea that they would get effectively a death sentence, that they will die in prison, without ever having the opportunity to prove that they could change just seems wrong,” says the Casey Foundation’s Balis.

Advocacy groups such as the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth want a ban on life sentences for juveniles. Currently, there are about 2,500 prisoners nationwide who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based research group that opposes life without parole for juveniles.24

According to the fair sentencing campaign, 14 states have banned life sentences without parole for juveniles, nine after the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. Also following the ruling, five states abolished life without parole as an option for juveniles “in most cases,” the campaign said.25

Many juveniles serving life in prison “have demonstrated that, even with limited programming on the inside, they have been able to grow and change,” says Jody Kent Lavy, the campaign’s director and national coordinator. “It’s important to check on them later in life to determine that they have been rehabilitated.”

She adds, “We know young people can commit serious crimes, and the consequences are no less tragic. But the question we face as a society is, how do we hold them accountable as youth? Do we want to encourage them to better themselves while in prison and prove they can come home as productive members of their community?”

Many young criminals have been exposed to violence as a child, she explains, an argument Associate Justice Elena Kagan made in the Supreme Court’s Miller ruling. “Mandatory life without parole … prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”26

Moreover, says The Sentencing Project, housing juveniles for life “requires decades of public expenditures,” averaging $34,135 per year — and double that for an inmate over 50.27

Lavy says the United States does not align with the rest of the world on this issue. She says the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by 140 signatory countries but not the United States, prohibits life sentences for juveniles.28 Yet, she says, the United States has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, considered an international bill of rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination — relevant because a disproportionate percentage of juveniles of color are incarcerated.29 The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth says life without parole for juveniles also undermines the U.N. convention against torture.30

“There’s no merit to those arguments,” says the Heritage Foundation’s Stimson, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense who in 2006 helped defend the department’s compliance with the convention against torture before the United Nations. That convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are silent on the issue of life without parole sentences, he says.

“States are fully within their rights and their decision-making fully within the debate of the social science experts to offer life without parole sentences for those convicted of first degree murder,” he says.

State justice systems allow judges to use discretion, as the Supreme Court directed in its 2012 ruling in which it stated that “the judge must take youth and experience and other factors into consideration,” Stimson points out. “So they get an individualized sentencing procedure.” In any case, he adds, most juveniles convicted of murder are not given life sentences, and prosecutors “are sensitive to the unique circumstances of each case.”

Salarno, of Crime Victims United, says, “We aren’t making anybody accountable and responsible.” She contends there is a “movement … going on in this country” in which “the victim has become the perpetrator and the perpetrator has become the victim.”

Her group opposed a California measure, ultimately passed in 2013, to allow those sentenced to life without parole before age 18 to ask for a rehearing. “Those families went through all that trauma and all that fear, and a jury gave them that sentence,” Salarno says. “And now they live in fear because [the inmate] is going to get out. That is wrong to do that to those families.”

In his dissent in the Miller case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the court had confused decency with leniency. “It is a great tragedy when a juvenile commits murder — most of all for the innocent victims,” Roberts wrote.

Erickson, the forensic scientist, warns, “If the Supreme Court eventually decides we will have a categorical ban, is that not at war with the doctrine that juries get to decide?”

Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation opposes banning life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), and says some murderers, even those under 18, “should never see the light of day.” However, he adds, “the juveniles on LWOP who are performing well, behaving and making themselves productive should be in a different kind of housing from the hard-core gang banger.”

Moreover, he continues: “There is a guaranteed way to reduce sentences for 17-year-old multiple murderers. There is something called a commutation by the governor. In California, we have a governor who has done that. He’s putting his butt on the line every time when he makes those calls.”

Muhammad, of Impact Justice, says paroled inmates released in recent years by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown have become productive citizens. He says those convicted at 14 and sentenced to life terms likely didn’t have a brain that had fully developed yet. “Thirty years later they would be a human being.”

He supports banning life-without-parole sentences. He warns, however, that courts can impose sentences that are not termed life without parole but are effectively the same. “There are courts and judges who get around [a ban on mandatory life without parole] by giving 150-year sentences. That hasn’t been outlawed.”

Erickson and others explain, however, that such sentences typically provide for a parole hearing after a certain number of years.

High court to hear whether juvenile killers should get another chance at freedom

Riley YatesContact ReporterOf The Morning Call
October 9, 2015

The 2012 decision left open the possibility that life-without-parole terms can still be imposed on juveniles, though the court said they should be uncommon. But the ruling said they can’t be handed down automatically, and the defense must be given a chance to argue for something less, citing a defendant’s background and capacity to change.

That reality was on display with one of the few juvenile killers in Pennsylvania to win a resentencing so far, Easton killer Qu’eed Batts, whose appeals were pending when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. Last year, Batts, who was 14 when he committed his crime in 2006, was again given life without parole, with Northampton County Judge Michael Koury Jr. concluding it was the sentence he deserved as a “cold-blooded killer,” and not an impulsive youth.

Lehigh County has all six of the Lehigh Valley cases in which the question of retroactivity is in play. District Attorney Jim Martin has said he opposes new sentencings in all of them, calling it a burden for prosecutors and a “terrible weight” on the victims’ families.

Similar arguments were raised by the National District Attorneys Association and a victims rights organization in filings in the Louisiana case.

New hearings “will deprive surviving family members of the finality that they have had for years,” wrote the National Association of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. “When a juvenile murderer killed their loved one, the surviving members were traumatized. Reopening these cases for resentencing will re-traumatize them, forcing them to relive the events that traumatized them in the first instance.

“These surviving family members deserve no less respect than the juvenile murderers,” the group said.

In Allentown, 87-year-old Jack Minich said he never anticipated that 34 years after his aunt’s murder, he’d be wondering whether her killer will be released.

Minich was at his family’s downtown jewelry store in May 1981 when Edith Perry Minich was shot in the head by 17-year-old Henry G. Robinson during a robbery. Robinson was convicted of first-degree murder.

“On one hand, at his young age he could be rehabilitated, remorseful,” Minich said. “According to what I understand, he never has been. He’s never going to change.”

In light of the federal decision, Pennsylvania lawmakers have changed the future penalties for juveniles who kill. The new law allows for sentences in which they would one day be eligible be for release, though life without parole remains an option.

The first Lehigh Valley teen sentenced under the new statute was Lucas Cabassa, who was 17 when he shot 25-year-old Joseph Rodriguez during a brawl in south Bethlehem in 2013. Last year, Cabassa received 51 years to life after being found guilty in Northampton County Court of first-degree murder and other crimes.

Lehigh County has yet to have a juvenile killer convicted under the new law, though it could apply in the unresolved homicide case of 14-year-old Jamie Silvonek, according to Debbie Garlicki, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. Silvonek is charged in the March stabbing death of her mother, Cheryl Silvonek, in Upper Macungie Township.

Behind one Supreme Court case, tale of forgiveness for sister’s killer

The Supreme Court will hear a case regarding the 2,500 inmates in the US serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. Jeanne Bishop lost her sister to one of them.

October 12, 2015


Lawyers for Louisiana counter that Montgomery is not entitled to a new sentencing hearing. At the time it was imposed in the 1960s, Montgomery’s sentence was constitutional, and under the high court’s new youth sentencing regime, sentences imposing life without parole are still constitutional as long as they aren’t imposed automatically, lawyers for the state say.

The lawyers add that a re-sentencing in the Montgomery case would pose severe difficulties.

“The sentencer would have to determine whether Montgomery’s youth should have impacted the sentence he received for a crime he committed a half century ago,” Washington lawyer S. Kyle Duncan wrote in the state’s brief.

He noted that, as near as he could tell, everyone involved in the Montgomery trial – except Montgomery – is now dead.

“If those conceptual and practical obstacles were not enough, one must also consider the effect of the resentencing process on Deputy Hurt’s surviving children, who would be forced to publicly relive the anguish of having been deprived of a father for the better part of their lives,” Mr. Duncan said.

In a brief filed on behalf of Deputy Hurt’s daughter, Becky Wilson, the National Association of Victims of Juvenile Murderers declared that making the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision retroactive would be traumatic, unfair, and would deprive surviving family members of what they thought was finality.

“When a juvenile murderer killed their loved one, the surviving members were traumatized,” the brief says. “Reopening these cases for resentencing will retraumatize them, forcing them to relive the events that traumatized them in the first instance. These surviving family members deserve no less respect than the juvenile murderers.

The brief says that Ms. Wilson has forgiven Montgomery. But it adds that Wilson believes forgiveness is a personal issue and that there is a societal interest that people pay the consequences for their actions.

At the time of her father’s killing, Becky was 9 years old, her brother was 11, and her sister was 6.

“Charles Hurt did not get the chance to be a father to a family that needed him. He did not meet any of his grandchildren. He received few of the gifts and none of the satisfaction that comes from having a family grow up well.”

“Montgomery’s actions took that away from Charles Hurt and from his family. The consequences that have followed are Montgomery’s responsibility,” the brief says.

Juvenile lifers hope for a second chance


Can’t we just take a look?

Deborah Labelle with the ACLU says adults convicted of similar crimes to these juveniles are not serving life. She can’t understand why the same judicial system sentences children to die in prison.

“At thirty, what’s the problem with looking and saying, hey, who are you now?” asks Labelle.

Jody Robinson says there’s a huge problem with just taking a look. She’s the president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. Their website is Her organization stands with victim’s families and is against retroactivity.

Robinson has a personal stake in this. She was in high school when her brother was murdered.

“It took me almost 15 years,” says Robinson. “It took me in-patient therapy. It took me many, many years till I got to a place where my life could be ok.”

Robinson says the woman convicted of murdering her brother is getting what she deserves: life in prison, not a second chance.

At the very least, James Fuson would like to sit before a parole board and tell them how he’s changed. He may get a chance if the Supreme Court rules in his favor. If not, he says he’ll file his second commutation hearing and keep hoping.

Victims’ families worry about reconsideration of juvenile killers’ life sentence

Salt Lake Tribune

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins can tell you the tiniest details about the day she learned that her sister, her sister’s husband and their unborn child were slain near Chicago on April 7, 1990.

Those memories don’t fade — and it doesn’t take much to be retraumatized by them.

“The heart will race, the stomach will turn, the breath goes short and all of a sudden you’re under immediate threat again,” she said. “You can’t think, you can’t go on with your day.”

She lives in Illinois, where the state’s top court already has decided that young killers who were sent away for life without parole deserve a shot at resentencing, given the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama.

Bishop-Jenkins, past president and founder of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, fears the high court will rule along the same lines in Montgomery v. Louisiana, making Miller retroactive.

“If the court rules the wrong way, you’re going to have phone calls going out to victims’ families who didn’t even know this was before the court,” she said. People who, as recently as three years ago or as long as decades ago, “walked away from the life-without-parole sentencing, believing it was permanent.”

Who, she asked, will represent the victim at resentencing or parole hearing if family members or witnesses can no longer be found?

Nancy Whitmarsh, a member of the organization from Columbia, Mo., knows that scenario well.

The man who killed her first husband on Dec. 21, 1981, agreed to a second-degree murder conviction as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, which in Missouri means 30 years with a chance at release sooner.

Her husband’s killer came up for parole 12 years into his sentence. He was released four times but committed parole violations. It was before victims’ rights legislation required notification, so she hadn’t been aware.

Today, she braces for parole hearings. She’s attended one every other year since 2007. “It’s having one good year, then I’d have to think about it, one good year, then I’d have to think about it,” she said.

John Mills, an attorney with the Phillips Black law firm, points to a national consensus moving toward giving juvenile offenders a second chance.

“Our hearts go out to people who have been through the terrible experience of having lost a loved one, but this case (Montgomery v. Louisiana) is not about someone getting out, it’s about giving someone the opportunity to make the case for rehabilitation,” he said.

Whitmarsh’s response: “Being on the victim’s side of this equation, I would have to say this: When our loved one was murdered, it was final. There is no coming back from that, unfortunately. A lot of us feel — I feel — that a sentence should also be final.”

Even If Convicted, Teen Accused of Brutally Murdering His Teacher Could Be Freed

November 12, 2015 – Caitlin Nolan

The 2012 ruling has made it possible for many who once thought they would never see the light of day to try for re-sentencing hearings, much to the horror of their victims’ families whose closure was torn away by their love one’s killer’s second chance.

That includes Florida man Joshua Phillips, who in 1998 was convicted of murder. He was 14 at the time.

Maddie Clifton was eight years old when Phillips stabbed her and clubbed her to death in his San Jose area home, police said. Phillips participated in the search for the little girl, whose body was hidden underneath his bed. His mother discovered her body a week after he had killed her.

Now 31, Phillips will go before a judge in January to be given a sentencing date. It’s something that his victim’s sister, Jessie Clifton, is dreading.

“I think it’s just very unfair,” Clifton, 28, told IE. She was 11 when her sister was murdered.

“I’m scared for myself. I’m scared for my family. She doesn’t get to walk on the face of this earth again; why should he?”

Having worked as a paralegal in the States Attorney’s office, Clifton said she believes she knows firsthand that Phillips is not in a position to be released.

“Everyone is different and everyone deals with prison differently… but they’re all going to say ‘I’m a changed person, I’m a model prisoner.’ To put someone through what we went through? No,” she said. “I think it’s really dumb to backtrack.”

For the family of Colleen Ritzer, the agony is not a thing of the past.

In a video released shortly after her death, Ritzer’s mother, Peggy said: “These past six months have been a period of great pain and sorrow for our family and all those who knew and loved Colleen.

“Each day presents new challenges but we are blessed by the support of family and friends. Through the many acts of genuine kindness to honor our daughter and sister, our spirits are lifted. Though difficult, we strive to follow Colleen’s words to find good in every day,” Peggy Ritzer added. 

Peggy Ritzer was joined by Colleen’s father, brother and sister, who thanked those near and far for their support.

They continue to work to ensure their daughter and sister’s legacy lives on, setting up a scholarship in Colleen’s name and organizing an annual 5K walk/run to celebrate her life.

“In honor of that passion and to create a lasting legacy, Colleen’s family established the Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Scholarship to benefit Andover and Danvers High School seniors who demonstrate a passion for teaching, academic excellence and love of family,” the scholarship’s site reads. 

The desire to forever remember the beloved educator— who described herself on social media as a “math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching”— is an understandable and familiar one for the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, an organization that serves as  “Advocacy and Community for the families of those murdered by juveniles.”

“We are heartbroken. People we love were murdered. And they were murdered by someone who is getting tons of attention and sympathy for his crime, while our loved ones, and we who survive, are ignored,” the Organization’s site reads.

Their advocacy extends to legal finality in cases decided long ago. 

“For victims’ families, the ‘retroactive’ application of the Miller Supreme Court ruling means only one thing – more torture and endless agony for our brutalized families,” the organization writes.

Still, many say it’s a slippery slope to condemn a person for crimes they have yet to commit.

“It’s hard to predict future violence in anybody,” Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist and professor at Temple University, told IE.

“Statistically speaking, 90 percent of violent juvenile offenders do not become adult criminals,” he continued, saying that when someone goes before a parole board, a wide variety of factors are considered.

“The circumstances of the original crime, their behavior (in prison)… signs of rehabilitation,” Steinberg said, noting a parole board conducts an “assessment of risk he possesses” to a community.

That assessment of risk was the driving factor for law enforcement officials in keeping one juvenile killer behind bars well before the law permitted it.

Craig Price was 13 when in 1987 he broke into the Rhode Island home of 27-year-old Rebecca Spencer and stabbed the mother of two 58 times.

Two years later, he murdered Joan Heaton, 39, with kitchen knives she bought earlier that day as well as her daughters Melissa, eight, and Jennifer, 10, who had been stabbed 62 times.

“Craig Price was the original, the first juvenile serial killer in America,” said Det. Kenny Anderson, who arrested the then 15-year-old. He retired in 1994.
“That was part of our problem when we investigated this. ‘Oh well, that’s a kid.’ This was a nasty murder. You didn’t want to accuse a teenager of this,” Anderson told IE.
“He had no problem talking about it,” Anderson said. “You’d have to see it to believe it. He brutally, brutally murdered that family. When we were interviewing him for the murder we asked ‘why (stab them) so many times?’ He actually said – and this was no big deal to him – ‘they kept gurgling and I thought she was alive so I had to finish it.’”
Prosecutors said that Chism also spoke of his alleged crime.
Prosecutor Kate MacDougall said during closing arguments on a motion to suppress statements and other evidence in the case early this year that Chism “leaves out important details. He disparages the victim and claims she did something to bring about her own death in a bizarre way.
“He clarifies things,” MacDougall said, describing a recorded interview Chism allegedly had with police. “He’s careful as to his description of the murder, which bears no resemblance to reality, that minimized how many times he stabs her, that minimizes the nature of the sexual assault.”
According to court documents, Chism allegedly told police: “After she insulted me, that’s when I became the teacher.”
“The indictments … detail horrific and unspeakable acts,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said in a statement.
Colleen Ritzer’s family released a statement at the time, saying: “We are devastated and heartbroken by the details of the horrific circumstances surrounding the death of our beautiful daughter and sister, Colleen.”
The details Price recounted of his crimes and his demeanor while he relayed what he did have stuck with Anderson, now 70.
“You know the term stone-cold killer? That’s the term you could use for him. Stone cold. It was incredible,” Anderson said.
By law at the time, Price was to be freed when he turned 21, but those involved in putting the teen behind bars made it their mission to keep him locked up.
“That changed history in Rhode Island, everywhere,” Anderson said.

They succeeded, and Price, now 42, is still in prison serving time for a series of offenses he committed while locked up. He was denied parole earlier this year and will serve the rest of his current sentence, which expires July 2018 with good time. He then will serve another two years, six months and 23 days for assault and battery in the stabbing of a correctional officer.

“The reason he’s doing all this time is because he’s violent within the system,” Anderson said. “He acts within the system. He assaults guards, he assaults other prisoners. Every time he does that, they charge him and not to say I hope someone gets hurt, but I hope he keeps doing that. If he gets out… that’s a scary thought. You know he’s going to get in trouble.”

It’s an uncommon case like that that is the exception and should not be looked at as the norm, Steinberg notes.

“Fifty-year-old guys don’t commit a lot of crimes, particularly if he had behaved in prison,” Steinberg said, speaking generally.

He noted that while “it is very, very, very rare for somebody who’s committed murder to be paroled,” the Supreme Court’s decision is a good one.

Martin Horn, the former NYC Commissioner of Corrections, said the issue is a complicated and challenging one for society.

“Simply locking (someone) up and not doing anything for him or to him or with him is not likely to produce a good outcome,” Horn said. “Time alone would not cure what ails him. Imprisonment by itself cannot be the answer. Society has to take some responsibility… that he comes back to us (as) a productive member of the community.”

The issue is cut and dry for others.

“If a person’s violent, it doesn’t matter what your age is; you do not belong in society,” Anderson continued. “I’ve dealt with people who’ve killed people and they’re very remorseful afterward. When you kill someone (when you’re) unprovoked, you’re never going to feel any differently.

“I know these cases,” he said. “If you’re violent enough to kill people, and in some cases hide the body under a bed, in the woods, mutilate them, something is wrong with this picture. They don’t belong in society.”

Only a final selection of jurors stands in the way of the start of Chism’s trial. Judge David A. Lowy reportedly wants a total of 18 jurors to hear evidence in the trial, but 12 jurors will ultimately decide Chism’s fate.

For many, that’s when the hard part will begin. 

Supreme Court’s ‘juvenile lifers’ decision triggers both hope and heartbreak

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders was unconstitutional. On Monday, the court said that ruling applies to people currently serving sentences for crimes they committed as minors. Current State talks to both a prison reform proponent and a victims’ rights advocate about their reaction to the decision. 

For decades, Michigan law automatically sentenced juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole for certain violent crimes. But in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those mandatory life sentences for minors amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The justices did not say if the ruling applied retroactively to those already in prison, though. And officials in several states, including Michigan, decided it did not. 

On Monday, the Supreme Court revisited the issue and said that those inmates are entitled to a chance at re-sentencing or parole. In Michigan, that means that more than 350 inmates serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed as teenagers could soon be eligible for one of  those options.  Current State talks to two people who have had very different reactions to the news. Jody Robinson is with the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers and Kristen Staley is the Deputy Director of the advocacy group the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.     

Maryland ACLU Fights For Juveniles Facing Life Without Parole

April 11, 2016, 12:11 PM EDT / Updated April 11, 2016, 12:11 PM EDT

By Donna Owens

But victims advocacy groups such as the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers say they are committed “to making sure that it is the victims and not just the offenders that are the focus of any conversation about teen violence,” according to the organization’s website. The site also notes, “We do not support over-sentencing of offenders or conviction of the innocent.”


Juvenile offenders in legal limbo despite Supreme Court rulings

October 22, 2016

Cara Lombardo

“The people we’re dealing with have something wrong in their brain that would enable them to do these behaviors,” said Jody Robinson, president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. “I’m not willing to gamble on somebody else’s life.”

Robinson’s group, which has about 400 members, opposes revisiting life sentences for juveniles because it forces families to relive the original trauma and feels like justice has been lost for the victim.

While she believes some teenagers can be rehabilitated, Robinson said she is more concerned with preserving finality for grieving families.

Punishment or rehabilitation? Why America locks people up. (audio)

The Christian Science Monitor

So now we’re going to look at this situation from a different perspective: that of the victim. What do victims and their loved ones want out of the system? And what changes would they like to see?

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins: If you haven’t experienced your husband or your wife or your son or your daughter or your brother or your sister, if you haven’t experienced a murder of that intimacy, that extreme proportion of violence, I can’t put words to it.

My name is Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, and I live in Northfield, Illinois. And 30 years ago, on April 7th, 1990, my youngest sister, Nancy Bishop Langert and her husband Richard and their unborn child – they were pregnant with their first baby – were murdered by a 16-year-old, almost 17, for a thrill kill.

Sam: Jennifer is a member of NOVJM, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. The group provides support for those whose loved ones have been murdered by young people. They give each other room to air their pain and grievances with others who understand.

Jennifer: None of us question the fact that there’s criminal justice reform needed in the United States, on a whole host of issues. And many of us, myself included, strongly support criminal justice reform. But what we want to make sure is that the victims’ voices are heard, that the victims are kept informed. If you’re talking about homicide victim family members, you’re talking about people who have had literally the most devastating thing happen to them that – that can ever happen to anybody.

Sam: NOVJM also advocates for the rights of crime victims and their loved ones. Because, Jennifer says, when crimes are committed, those who’ve actually experienced harm are regularly left out of the conversation. In many cases, they’re not even told about significant changes to the system that will affect them.

Jennifer: … And we stay in touch with each other and we try to do what we can to ask that no matter what else people may be advocating for in terms of changes in laws, that the victims’ families are kept informed, that they’re heard from, that they’re valued, given resources to deal with changes.

You know, in some cases, we have victims’ families where they are 20, 30 years out from a murder case and they walked away with maybe a life without parole sentence for a 17-year-old who killed a loved one. And they said, ‘Phew, thank God that’s over.’ And they, you know, walked away. To then have them come back after the Miller v. Alabama case, the Supreme Court overturning mandatory life sentences for juveniles and then later making that retroactive – to get the news that, you know, that thing that you walked away from? Well you’re going to have to deal with it again.

And so I guess I’m sort of living example. You know, I’m 30 years out from my sister’s murder and I still am facing, in this next year or two, a whole series of re-sentencing procedures with the offender in my case. Thirty years later. And it never, ever ends for us.

[Transition music]

Sam: The justice system doesn’t only fail to meet its supposed goals; it also often leads to deep trauma for everyone involved.

Jennifer: People are permanently changed. I literally couldn’t sleep for years. I was so scared. And once the movement began to release the offender, a good 16 years after the murders, I literally went back into a re-traumatization that – I couldn’t function. I was unable to concentrate at work. I had to start seeing a psychiatrist again.

I met and married my husband because his son was murdered. He and I met at a murder victims’ conference. I mean, my whole life has been shaped by this. And people who begin to see this every day on the news, they just figure, ‘Oh, well, you know, so sad for these people. But they’ll get over it.’ But you don’t. Your life is forever changed.

Sam: The justice system is supposed to address crime, but in many ways it fails to support the victims of those crimes. On top of that, it creates trauma for those behind bars, leading to violence and pain begetting violence and pain.

Sam: To Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, the woman whose sister and brother-in-law were murdered in 1990, that nuance is incredibly important in justice reform efforts. The case that she mentioned earlier – Miller v. Alabama – is the same Supreme Court ruling that led to Jeremiah Bourgeois getting released from prison. Jennifer doesn’t disagree with the spirit of the decision – the idea that juveniles should be treated differently than adults. But meaningful justice reform, she says, still needs to account for the harm that was caused to others.

Jennifer: Long before I became an advocate for the rights of the victims of juvenile offenders, I was an advocate for the end of the death penalty and for reform of the criminal justice system for juveniles. I don’t support killing. I can’t say that killing is wrong and then support it by the government.

So I – I hope that you’re not surprised to hear that I strongly support criminal justice reform. Yes, we are a massively over incarcerated country. And one of the first things that I strongly, personally support is no incarceration for nonviolent offenses. I don’t know why you need prison for a nonviolent offense.

But public safety is also really important. Public safety also has to take into account that there’s going to be, thank God, a very small percentage of people who are extremely, extremely dangerous and could possibly remain that way for the rest of their lives. Are there institutions that we can create that are humane and that are not torturous or abusive, but that will also keep the public safe?

So I don’t think the purpose of the criminal justice system is retribution at all. I believe one of the primary purposes of the criminal justice system is to sort out who is truly dangerous and who is not, who is fixable and who is not, who can be rehabilitated and who cannot.

Sam: Jennifer says she believes her sister’s killer – who was arrested six months after the murders and sentenced to life without parole – is one of those who will likely always be a danger to society.

Jennifer: He was not poor. He was not a person of color. He was a rich, smart kid who had every advantage, lived in $3 million house, was going to one of the best high schools in the country. And he broke into their house on a Saturday night and lay in wait for them as they returned home from celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday. He took them down to the basement of their townhouse and shot them both point blank with a .357 Magnum.

Sam: At one point, Jennifer says she offered her sister’s killer a chance to sit down with her and talk about the crime.

Jennifer: And that’s one of the ways that I know that he hasn’t changed, because he was like, ‘Eh, nah. Too much work.’


Criminal justice reform, it’s about everybody. Everybody affected by crime, and that includes victims.

We have to sort the dangerous, protect them in a humane way from being able to hurt anybody else, and then focus our resources on making sure that criminal justice reform is all a part of a larger society in which all are valued. All are protected. All are understood. All are given equal opportunities.

Sam: Jennifer recognizes that there are plenty of people who do want to change. People like Jeremiah Bourgeois, who – despite the system’s flaws – is finding a path toward redemption.

Jeremiah: Because I was serving a life without parole sentence, the policies of the Department of Corrections precluded me from taking any educational programs, even if I paid for it. And so I just started going to the law library. I started finding out what type of books somebody would need to read while they were pursuing their undergraduate degree, and just trying to formulate my own system of self-study.

And I had family that was supportive. They helped pay for correspondence courses when I was finally transferred to a facility that allowed me to take distance learning. And it took – I mean, from the point Baca killed himself to the point I finally had accumulated enough credits to get that bachelor’s degree was almost 15 years.

Mississippi ‘throws away’ juveniles, robbing them of chance for redemption, advocates say

By Shirley L. Smith
Mississippi Center For Investigative Reporting

In 2005, the court struck down the death penalty for children in Roper v. Simmons. At the time, five juvenile offenders in Mississippi were on death row, said André de Gruy, the state’s public defender. In 2010, in Graham v. Florida, the court banned life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes. Then, in 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, it banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who committed a homicide before they were 18. Four years later, the court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that Miller should be applied retroactively.

These decisions have led to reforms in the sentencing of youth across the country, but ambiguities in the Miller and Montgomery rulings have caused confusion in the lower courts, leading to extensive litigation. And while hundreds of juvenile offenders destined to die in prison have become eligible for parole or been released, their journey has been an agonizing, emotional rollercoaster for their victims’ families, who have had to relive the murders of their loved ones at resentencing and parole hearings.

Victims’ families deserve legal finality so they can move on with their lives, said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, founder and acting president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers.

After the Miller and Montgomery rulings, Bishop-Jenkins, a resident of Illinois, said she received hundreds of calls from victims’ families who thought their cases were closed, only to find out they would be reopened and they would have to re-engage with the killer of their loved ones at resentencing hearings and repeated parole hearings. “That is torture,” she said.

“The court has to take that into account. It’s not just about the killers. It’s also about the trauma left behind in the wake of these devastating crimes,” Bishop-Jenkins said. Her sister, brother-in-law and their unborn child were murdered in Winnetka, Illinois, by a teenager, who “lived in a wealthy suburb” and came from “a great family.” Though this tragedy occurred 30 years ago, her emotions are raw. “Whenever I get close to thinking about this murder, this loss in my life, my heart races. I am already shaking. My throat is tight.”

Mississippi’s Parole Board meets with victims’ families before parole hearings, so they do not have to interact with the perpetrator, board Chairman Steven Pickett said. The hearings are conducted remotely, with the inmates attending via video from the prison. However, if family members choose to attend a resentencing hearing, they would have to re-engage with the murderer.

The Supreme Court’s Miller decision did not ban all life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, but it held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”

How should juvenile offenders be sentenced?

Author: Lacey CrispPublished: 5:50 PM EST November 13, 2020

In 2020, 12 children under the age of 18 are suspects in Columbus homicide cases. 

There’s a group pushing to take another look at how these juveniles are punished.

“My sister, her husband and their unborn child were murdered by a 16 year-old,” Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murders.

Bishop-Jenkins has become a reluctant national leader when it comes to juvenile sentencing. After three of her family members were murdered in a Chicago suburb, she formed the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers.

“We are trying to keep other teen family victims like ours informed about what is happening about all the changes in the law and advocate for victim’s rights,” Bishop-Jenkins said.

The group does not have an opinion on the sentence the juveniles are given, but would like more done to evaluate teens of violent crimes to separate the offenders who are likely to re-offend and those who can be rehabilitated.

“We don’t think there’s enough of that happening where real psychiatric expertise about psychopathology is being brought to bear,” said Bishop-Jenkins.

She adds instead of treating all juvenile offenders the same, if the system would do a better job sorting the teens based on their mental health needs, it will be better for the community, and less likely for the teen to re-offend.

“We know that sometimes just a few years in jail and aging out, or a few years in a serious mental health program and getting older and more mature can be tremendously helpful,” Bishop-Jenkins said.

Mother of murder victim advocated for new parole changes

The change had detractors – including the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. They both argued for judges to have discretion in sentencing life without parole and that passing the law would cause victims to relive trauma through ongoing parole hearings.

The push to stop putting juveniles away for life

On Wednesday, January 20, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers released a statement on the matter saying in part that they oppose “over-sentencing” juvenile offenders that are disproportionate to their crimes and recognize that life without parole may sometimes be a disproportionate sentence for juvenile offenders, however they also say some pose a long-term danger.

While many juvenile offenders have the potential for positive change, there are many who are psychopaths. Psychopaths will always pose a danger because there is no cure or treatment for psychopathy. In such cases, life without parole may be necessary to protect the public.

NOVJM believes that each juvenile offender should be sentenced based on their individual characteristics. Advocates of ending life sentences for juveniles argue that they are categorically less culpable due to the “hallmarks of youth”– impulsivity, susceptibility to peer pressure, etc. However, not all juveniles are the same. Many juvenile criminals do not display any of the “hallmarks of youth.” Rather than being impulsive, they extensively plan out their crimes. And rather than being under peer pressure, they commit their crimes alone. A great example of this is the Donald Torres case from Delaware. Torres broke into the Godt family’s home, spread kerosene around the home, and set it ablaze. He then watched the house burn down with the family inside. The mother, father, three-year-old son, and one-year-old daughter were all killed.

It is nonsensical to say that Torres should not get life without parole because most other juveniles are impulsive and susceptible to peer pressure, even though none of these traits applied to him. We believe that juvenile offenders should be sentenced based on the facts surrounding their specific crimes and not based on the general traits of others in their age group.

Finally, we ask that victims be considered. Murder victims do not get second chances. Many murder victims’ families feel that it is unfair for the killers to be released. They believe that the murderers should not be allowed to enjoy the very freedoms they robbed their loved ones of. To prevent the injustice of an early release, they will fight parole. For these victims, the parole process is incredibly difficult and painful. They suffer nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. This trauma is intensified when parole hearings are more frequent.

Currently, the national debate regarding life sentences for juveniles is focused on the offenders. Victims are forgotten. We ask that Maryland lawmakers keep us in mind when making decisions that will significantly impact us.

Maryland General Assembly considers a bill to end life sentences for juveniles

However, many family members of victims feel the legislation takes away their loved one’s justice. In a statement the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers wrote, “In the national debate surrounding the sentencing of juvenile criminals, victims are forgotten. The focus is on the offenders even though they are the ones who chose to place themselves in the positions they are in by committing crimes. The victims did not choose their situations. They truly are the most vulnerable and voiceless people in the criminal justice system. “

NOVJM adds the argument of second chances for offenders is unfair, especially when victims of crimes like murder, don’t have a second chance. 

“Proponents of the Juvenile Restoration Act talk about “second chances” and hope and futures. But lost in all this mantra are the victims. Murder victims are denied hope and futures. They don’t get second chances. Many murder victims’ families feel it is unfair for the killers to be released and will try to prevent release by speaking up at hearings,” NOVJM added.

A hearing on the Juvenile Restoration Act is scheduled for Wednesday, February 17 in the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Legislation proposes parole eligibility for juveniles serving life sentences

In Senate Bill 247, it would make sure that juveniles sentenced anywhere from 15 years to life could be up for the possibility of parole after 15 years behind bars. In a committee meeting, people who were sentenced for crimes as a child spoke out in favor of this, adding that redemption is possible.

However, families of victims of crimes committed by juveniles spoke out in opposition saying the proposal is cruel to victims and their families. The horrific 2017 Clovis library shooting, caused by then 16-year-old Nathaniel Jouett, was referenced often. One woman who lost her mom, Kristina Carter, in that shooting spoke out strongly against the bill.

“The violence that the men, women, and children witnessed in the library that day is inescapable,” said Kristina Carter’s daughter, Evie Fisher. “We will be haunted in a prison of our own for the rest of our days because we can’t have our loved ones back.”

New Mexico has seen some other horrific cases from juveniles, like Nehemiah Griego who was only 15 years old when he killed his father, mother, and three young siblings inside their South Valley home in 2013. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The bill is now waiting to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If this gets passed, analysts believe more than 40 people who are currently serving time for crimes committed as juveniles could become eligible for parole. There is now a petition online in opposition to this legislation.

Petition circulates against Senate Bill 247

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Nearly 2,000 people have signed an online petition to get a proposed bill thrown out of the legislature, but not everyone is against the legislation. “The sounds, the smells, the screaming, the gunshots,” Jessica Throne remembers the day Nathaniel Jouett walked into the Clovis Carver Library, where she worked and started shooting.

“You’re stuck with that,” said Throne. “Not only was I shot and injured, I lost two of my very close friends,” said Throne.

A judge gave Jouett two life sentences with a chance at parole back in 2019. With good time, he could be eligible for parole in 30 years. Senate Bill 247 would give Jouett and other juvenile offenders serving 15 years to life, an opportunity for parole after 15 years behind bars.

“We obviously don’t want this bill to be passed,” said Chelsey Jorde. Her mom, Kristen Carter was killed in that 2017 library shooting. “Some of the acts that have been performed to get these juveniles to have these sentences are just terrible,” said Jorde.

Jorde, along with her sister Evie Fisher, and friend Jessica Throne are helping circulate a petition to try and keep this legislation from being passed. “It’s a slap in the face that this legislation is even on the table right now,” said Fisher.

But, not everyone is against the bill, Carissa Mcgee fully supports Senate Bill 247. When she was a teenager, Mcgee was sentenced to 21 years in prison for trying to kill her mom and sister. She served nearly nine years at the correctional facility in Grants.

Since doing her time, Mcgee says she’s turned her life around. “I had the fortune to know what it’s like to be given a second chance,” said Mcgee, who is now a referee for the New Mexico Athletics Association, and an advocate for youthful offenders. She says Senate Bill 247 will give other kids just like her that same chance.

The bill is now waiting to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The petition has received more than 17-hundred signatures, they’re trying to get 25-hundred.

Senate to vote on juvenile sentences bill

Friday, March 5th, 2021 at 10:20pm

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A bill that would reform the way children are sentenced in New Mexico garnered opposition from victims who said repeated parole board hearings would re-traumatize them.

The Juvenile Life Sentences Without Parole bill, sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, both Albuquerque Democrats, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday evening, but with an amendment proposed to ease the burden on victims.

Only Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, voted against the bill. The legislation, Senate Bill 247, is now headed to the Senate floor for a vote. If passed, it will head to the House.

The bill would allow people sentenced as juveniles to get their case reviewed after 15 years and then have parole board hearings every two years until released. Before the amendment, the crime victims would have to be notified and involved in each parole board hearing. Most crime victims who testified said this would re-traumatize them.

Nathan Spulak spoke in opposition of the bill and said his sister was attacked and left for dead by a juvenile offender. He said his family wouldn’t be able to move on from the crime if they’re forced to relive the trauma every two years at a parole board hearing.

Among the crime victims who spoke in opposition of the bill were survivors of the 2017 Clovis Library shooting. Nathaniel Jouett was 16 years old when he killed two people and seriously wounded four others, according to previous news reports.

The amendment, brought forward by Sen. Bill O’Niell, D-Albuquerque, would allow crime victims to opt-out of these parole hearings. If they changed their mind later, they could opt back in.

But crime victims weren’t the only ones opposed to the legislation.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office voiced its opposition to the two-year parole provision of the bill, also mentioning the burden it has on victims.

Matt Baca, chief counsel for the office, said the office has heard an outcry from crime victims against the bill. He said the office isn’t against the intent of the bill, but can’t support the frequency of the parole hearings and the toll it takes on crime victims.

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said she supports the bill and it’s based on the recognition that young people have the capacity to change. She said she accepts the science that juvenile offenders are unable to asses the risks and consequences before committing a crime. Young people can also change and be rehabilitated, she said.

Carissa McGee was one of those people. At the age of 16, McGee was sentenced as an adult to 21 years in prison for two counts of attempted murder.

After eight years in prison, she said she was a changed woman. She was given a second chance at a parole board hearing and has now successfully completed her probation and parole.

She said she’s in the process of earning a graduate degree, has a full-time job and started a nonprofit and wrote a book about her experience. She said all this was possible due to the second chance the court system gave her.

She was a violent felon convicted as a child, she said, and proof that redemption is possible.

Bill seeks to give violent youth offenders opportunity for parole after 15 years

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Lawmakers will soon hear a bill that would end life without parole for violent juveniles and could reduce life sentences for youth offenders who were sentenced as adults.

The bill could impact 75 people who are currently in New Mexico prisons.

Those backing the bill, including the ACLU of New Mexico, said it won’t give people a free pass out of prison. Instead, they claim it will give prisoners a chance to show how they’ve improved after 15 years behind bars.

“In their early 30s, we will know much more about them,” said Denali Wilson, an attorney with the ACLU.

Wilson said 24 states already did away with juvenile life without parole. Half of those states also have an early parole program.

“I am the population that this bill directly targets,” said Carissa McGee, who was sentenced, at age 16, to 20 years in prison for attempted murder. “I know what it is to be a violent youthful offender.”

McGee now works as a motivational speaker. She’s also written a book and works with youth advocacy groups.

“Violent youthful offenders can still make a huge impact in their community in a positive meaningful way if given a chance,” she said.

McGee said offenders would have to meet various criteria to be let out of prison after 15 years.

“You have to demonstrate you are a safe member, you have been productive in your healing, that you’ve taken full accountability of your actions,” She said.

Senate Bill 247 has a lot of opposition. A petition, with thousands of signatures, claims letting youthful offenders out early is a danger to the community and would undo the healing of crime survivors.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said it’s important for lawmakers to remember the victims.

Balderas said in a statement, “The legislature must carefully balance the protection of victims and families traumatized by violence, while improving long term mental health treatment options for violent offenders in a safe way that does not re-traumatize these survivor families.”

Currently, in New Mexico, people sentenced to life in prison are eligible for parole review after serving 30 years.

‘It’s frustrating’: Clovis library shooting victims speak out against SB 247

CLOVIS, New Mexico (KFDA) – Victims of the Clovis Carver Public Library mass shooting are speaking out against a bill making its way through the New Mexico legislature.

Senate Bill 247 gives violent juvenile offenders who have been given a life sentence a chance at parole after 15 years.

On Wednesday, it passed the senate floor.

If it becomes law, it could affect the outcome for the convicted library shooter, Nathaniel Jouett.

Jouett was 16-years-old when he killed two people and wounded four others at the library.

Two years ago, he received two life sentences for his actions and the pain he caused others, pain some are still dealing with today.

“I feel like it’s an absolute disregard to the victims and family members who lost loved ones,” said Jessica Thron.

Thron was on[e] of the victims who was wounded in the shooting.

She and others said they feel ignored by legislators when it comes to SB 247.

“The justice system has already given them sentences,” she said. “And it feels like we’re just going back on that. I feel like the victims are just kind of pushed to the side. We don’t really have a say.”

Mandie Walters and Evie Fisher both lost their mothers Wanda Walters and Krissy Carter in the shooting.

“I just want to make people aware of this and also, you know, be my mom’s voice because she can’t do it anymore,” said Walters.

“I have just kind of barely begun my healing journey because I didn’t want to believe it for so long,” said Fisher.

They feel the age, in this case, doesn’t matter.

“I understand that he was under 18 at the time but I also firmly believe that he knew exactly what he was doing,” said Walters. “It was premeditated. And I just really don’t feel that he deserves to be out in such a short time. My mom didn’t deserve to be [] shot like that.”

Eric Dixon, a Portales defense attorney believes the bill gives juveniles the second chance they deserve.

“A child’s brain at 15 or 16 or even later is not fully developed,” said Dixon. “That makes a huge difference. This gives somebody who is much different at 30 years old, a second chance at life.”

Although, the victims disagree.

“We’ve all been teenagers, we’ve all gone through our own angst, we’ve all gone through periods of just probably just really wild anger that we probably couldn’t even fathom at this point right now and in our adult lives, but there’s still lines that we know are not to be crossed,” said Fisher.

‘What about us?’: New Mexico crime victims outraged over youth parole bill

Bethany FreudenthalLas Cruces Sun-News

n this Aug. 31, 2017, file photo, Nathaniel Jouett, who would later plead guilty to fatally shooting two workers inside a public library and wounding four others, enters a courtroom in Clovis, N.M.

LAS CRUCES – On Aug. 28, 2017, Nathaniel Jouett walked into the Clovis Carter Library and opened fire, killing two and injuring others.

Jouett, then 16, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 40 years.

The families affected by the mass shooting didn’t think they’d have to hear from Jouett again following his lengthy sentence. But those victims are now speaking out after a bill passed by the New Mexico Senate last week could impact Jouett’s sentence, as well as the sentences of other juvenile offenders.

Senate Bill 247 would prohibit juveniles from being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The most serious child offenders could still be sentenced to life in prison, which in New Mexico is 30 years incarcerated. If the bill is successful, law would mandate those juvenile offenders go before a parole board after 15 years and every five years after that.

Proponents say this bill gives a second chance to juveniles who may not have been capable of realizing the impact of their crimes. Families and victims of crimes committed by juveniles say having to continually attend parole board hearings is like pulling a scab that has just begun to heal. 

An X-ray shows Jessica Thron's shoulder after it was shattered by a bullet fired Aug. 28, 2017, by 16-year-old Nathaniel Jouett.
Jessica Thron’s shoulder after it was shattered by a bullet fired by Jouett

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, still need to be passed by the New Mexico House and signed by the governor before it becomes law. The House has until Saturday to debate and vote on the bill.

Hochman-Vigil said the bill would impact juvenile offenders currently serving time, meaning Jouett could be eligible for a parole hearing after 15 years.

Victims speak out

Jessica Thron, a library worker whose shoulder was shattered by a bullet fired by Jouett, said she’s speaking out against the bill for Wanda Walters and Krissie Carter, the two killed in the Clovis shooting, who no longer have a voice.

“It’s hurtful, because it seems like lawmakers want to do everything they can in their power to help these murderers — get them rehabilitated and get them back out into society as soon as possible, and it’s like what about their victims? What about the ones who were killed that are gone forever? What about those of us who are still alive? What about us,” she said. 

Carter’s daughter, Evie Fisher, said the bill blindsided the victims and families in the Jouett case, who now feel a “pretty good chunk of time for peace” has been taken away. 

“Mass shooters, you just don’t think, no matter what, that that kind of act really warrants the sentence that he got and it’s just really frustrating to pick it back up so soon after, because we’re just barely beginning our healing journey at this point,” she said.

Youthful offenders, Fisher said, should have to earn their redemption, instead of just having to wait out their sentences, because that’s what it’s like in the real world. 

What about the ones who were killed that are gone forever? What about those of us who are still alive? What about us?

“We have to take our lives into our own hands and make our own future, and they should have to as well,” Fisher said. “Even more so, because of what they have done.” 

Mandy Walters, whose mother was killed in the attack, said she’s forgiven Jouett, but that doesn’t mean that he should be able to get out of prison. 

“He needs to serve the time for what he did,” she said. 

Why allow parole?

New Mexico’s Senate passed the bill on 28-11 vote.

Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, said she voted in favor of the legislation because at 16 years old, she was a completely different person from who she is now at 52, and these “children” should have the opportunity to develop.

The bill, she said is not an excuse for the crime. 

“This is an explanation of how people are thinking and how people are developing at that age when they make very bad decisions,” she said. “According to this bill, they’re still in jail for 15 years and then get reevaluated for parole, so if they’re not rehabilitated, they’re not going to get parole.” 

Wanda Walters left, and Jessica Thron right, working at the Clovis Carver Library. Walters was murdered during a mass shooting at the library on Aug. 28, 2017, and Thron was injured in the incident.
Wanda and Jessica working at the library

Hamblen said her focus is on giving adolescents who make really bad decisions an opportunity to become better people and doesn’t see it as negating the pain of families affected by these crimes.

Fisher said she feels lawmakers in support of the bill are ignoring the “real” victims.

“They’re treating the child as the victim, they’re treating the adolescent as a victim, when they’re really just a victim of their own choice,” she said. 

True crime show to reveal unshared details of Wadsworth’s ‘most horrific’ killing in years

Stephanie Warsmith Akron Beacon Journal

Margaret Douglas, 98, was killed in her Wadsworth home in April 2018.

Howard Leasure searched his 98-year-old’s aunt’s Wadsworth home in April 2018, hoping for clues about where she was.

He looked in the closet to see if he could find Margaret Douglas’ favorite shoes. He found one but realized it was attached to her dead body.

“I thought, ‘Oh lord, it’s her,’” Leasure recalled, breaking into tears. “I pretty much lost it…”

Leasure shared this painful memory in an episode of “Unexpected Killer” that will air Friday night  on the Oxygen network. The show details the murder of Douglas at the hands of Gavon Ramsay, her 17-year-old neighbor.

Ramsay was convicted of Douglas’ strangulation death in January 2019 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Gavon Ramsay is escorted by a sheriff's deputy in November 2018 prior to entering a no-contest plea for the murder of his neighbor.

Douglas’ family agreed to participate in the show last summer because they were hoping to call attention to then-pending legislation that removed life without parole as a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of serious crimes. They hoped highlighting the case might dissuade lawmakers, but the legislation passed. The law becomes effective April 12.

“We felt it was important to get the real story out — a lot of details were not known,” said Patricia Leasure, Douglas’ great niece. “We felt sharing the story would potentially show people there are special circumstances in which — just because someone is 17 — it doesn’t mean reformation is possible or parole is appropriate.”

Wadsworth Police Chief David Singleton called Douglas’ murder on April 6, 2018, “the most horrific crime” he has seen in his 28 years with the department.

Police discovered in their investigation that Ramsay sneaked into the home of Douglas — who never locked her door — and took a video of her sleeping on the couch. He strangled her and spent two hours taking more videos and photographs of her corpse, including several of a sexual nature. He then put her body in a small closet, covered her with clothes and a vacuum cleaner and returned to his home five doors down before his parents awoke.

“He just has evil in him to do something like that,” Singleton said. “That’s the only way I can explain it.”

Gavon Ramsay struggles to hold back tears as Medina County Common Pleas Judge Joyce Kimbler announced he will be transferred to jail after finding him guilty of multiple charges in November 2018.

Ramsay pleaded no contest and was found guilty in November 2018 of all the charges against him, which included aggravated murder, murder, aggravated burglary, kidnapping and gross abuse of a corpse. He had been bound over to adult court because of the severity of the charges, but didn’t face the death penalty because he was under 18.

During Ramsay’s sentencing, Christine Ramsay, his mother, detailed her son’s mental-health issues and how she had sought help for him through counseling and medication.

Patricia Leasure, however, called Gavon Ramsay a coward who preyed on someone more vulnerable. She said she thinks he used her great-aunt as a warmup for others he wanted to kill, whom he had written about in a notebook.

Medina County Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson (standing) argues for a prison sentence of life without parole for Gavon Ramsay, 17, (front) in Medina County Common Pleas Court in January 2019.

Medina County Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson echoed this concern as he urged Judge Joyce Kimbler to sentence Ramsay to life without parole.

Gavon Ramsay apologized and said he couldn’t explain what happened.

“I’d take it back in a heartbeat if I could,” he said. “I feel terrible for what I’ve done and I will never do anything like that again … I constantly live in regret and shame.”

Kimbler sentenced Ramsay to life without parole, calling Ramsay “unfit to re-enter society.”

Whether that sentence will remain, however, is unclear because of the new law that abolished life without parole as a penalty for juveniles, with young people given the chance to be considered for release after spending a specified amount of time in prison. Proponents said the U.S. is the only country in the world that sentences children to life without parole eligibility.

The idea was to give young people who commit serious crimes the opportunity to be released from prison if they are rehabilitated.

The change garnered some interesting allies, including Browns offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Kendall Lamm, who wrote a letter to Ohio senators supporting the legislation. The players highlighted how five of the 12 people sentenced to life without parole as juveniles are Black, despite Black Ohioans comprising only 14.3% of the population.

Thompson, though, was among those who voiced opposition, pointing to the Ramsay case as a reason judges might want to impose such a harsh sentence.

The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murders also spoke out against the legislation because of concern for the impact it would have on families.

“Victims like Margaret’s family will be forced to relive the crimes at parole hearings,” said the group’s Ohio coordinator.

Gavon Ramsay

Gavon Ramsay, who turns 20 next week, is incarcerated at Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County. He has so far lost his appeals.

Laura Austen, deputy director of policy and outreach for the Ohio Public Defender’s office that is representing Ramsay, declined to comment on his case.

Austen, however, did say her office supported the elimination of the life-without-parole penalty for juveniles.

“This aligns Ohio with 30 other states and over a decade of court precedent,” she said.

Thompson said Ramsay’s case may return to the trial court based on the new law.

“Based on legislative decisions, the family now has to relive the facts,” he said. “They were given some small measure of closure knowing he would never get out of prison.”

“Whatever has to be done, we will be prepared to do it,” he added.

Patricia Leasure, the great niece of Margaret Douglas is comforted after Gavon Ramsay, 17, is sentenced to life in prison without parole in Medina County Common Pleas Court in January 2019.

Patricia Leasure said her family has been through a roller-coaster ride since her aunt’s death, with the sentencing, Ramsay’s appeals and the debate on the new law. If Ramsay is ever eligible for parole, she said the family will oppose his release.

“We believe he is incapable of reform and, if he was back on the street, would be a danger to society and people in his community,” she said.

After her aunt’s death, Leasure, who lives in Michigan near Ann Arbor, said she had an alarm installed in her home and got a concealed carry permit and a gun — all steps she hadn’t fathomed previously. She said her parents, Howard and Cindy Leasure, share this unease.

“Our sense of safety was forever changed,” she said.

Supporters of criminal justice reform bill make final push as deadline nears

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Time is running out for a criminal justice reform bill in the New Mexico legislature.

As of this posting Friday night, Senate Bill 247 is still alive, but would need to pass in the House in the session’s final hours in order to become law.

The bill asks the question: when is the right time to give violent offenders who committed crimes as teenagers a second chance?

One of the sources of support might come as a surprise.

The bill’s supporters say, right now, New Mexico sends the wrong message to people who commit serious crimes before turning 18.

“It doesn’t matter the person you have become and the ways you commit yourself to repairing the harm you have caused, but it does matter. It matters that all children, even those that commit serious crimes, are capable of change and redemption,” said Denali Wilson with ACLU New Mexico.

The bill would give these offenders a chance at an earlier release. They could have a hearing 15 years into their sentence, instead of 30 years or more.

The 1994 case of Michael Brown helps illustrate what’s at stake.

At age 16 he received a sentence of life plus 41 ½ years after the state said he orchestrated his grandparents’ murders in Rio Rancho. He’ll be 67 at his earliest chance for release, according to his attorney.

“I just hope that one day I’ll have another chance and life, so that I can do something with my life,” Brown said during his 1995 trial.

 His sister, Shannon Fleeson, hopes that chance comes as soon as possible, though, at first, all those years ago, she was hurt and grieving.

I had nightmares and flashbacks and I spent years and years and years in counseling,” Fleeson told KOB 4 Friday.

She didn’t have a good relationship with her brother right away, but that changed.

“Over the years my brother started to mature and change,” she said. “He’s a remarkable person. He’s definitely not the person he was 27 years ago.” 

Fleeson believes her grandparents would want him to be free.

“It would mean a lot because at this point I don’t believe that keeping him, or even the other two individuals involved, keeping any of them in prison does my grandparents any justice or helps our family heal,” she said.

But many victims don’t feel the same way. The bill has a lot of opposition. A petition, with thousands of signatures, claims letting youthful offenders out early is a danger to the community and would undo the healing of crime survivors.

Many victims, like those in the 2017 Clovis library shooting, can’t imagine the offender getting a second chance so soon.

“I haven’t cried this much since Nathaniel’s been sentenced,” shooting survivor Jessica Thorn said.

Supporters of the bill say that in other states that have similar laws in place to what’s proposed in Senate Bill 247, just 1% of offenders end up back in jail.

Case of Wadsworth teen convicted of murder recounted on national TV

Jonathan Delozier
The Gazette

Mar 22, 2021 7:00 AM

WADSWORTH — The 2018 murder of an elderly Wadsworth resident by her teenage neighbor was detailed Friday in an episode of Oxygen TV network’s “An Unexpected Killer.”

Gavon Ramsay, then 17, murdered 98-year-old Margaret Douglas in the early morning hours of April 6, 2018, sneaking into his neighbor’s home while she slept before strangling her while wearing plastic gloves, sexually assaulting her lifeless body and photographing the heinous acts.

Relatives found Douglas’ body buried under household items in a closet three days later while performing a welfare check. Police found photos and videos of the crime on Ramsay’s cellphone later that month while investigating a separate matter.

Medina County Prosecutor Forrest Thompson appears in the new hourlong episode, which is scheduled to re-air Thursday on Oxygen at 1 a.m. and Friday at 10 a.m.

“I agreed to do this because (Douglas’) family said they wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “I think (Oxygen) did a good job with how the facts were presented and the way the actual show turned out. Accuracy was my primary concern from the outset.”

“The general public had a lot of misunderstandings about how (Ramsay) was identified,” Thompson added. “A lot of those questions were never answer because he plead in instead of going to trial.”

Ramsay, who turns 20 next week, was sentenced by Medina County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joyce Kimbler to life in prison in January 2019 on charges of murder, aggravated murder, kidnapping, gross abuse of a corpse and aggravated burglary. He filed an appeal one month later with the 9th District Court of Appeals, which eventually upheld Kimbler’s decision.

A case appeal on behalf of Ramsay was dismissed by the Ohio Supreme Court on Dec. 31, roughly two weeks after it was filed.

The teen initially pleaded not guilty to charges but later switched to a no contest plea.

“The graphic nature of this case made me a bit worried about how it would be presented on television,” Thompson said. “But I have to say that it’s all been handled with respect and handled very well. I would not have been involved without family member’s permission. I made that clear to the producers from the time they contacted me. The family was on board.”

A frantic effort to locate Douglas is recounted in the new episode, which came to a sudden end when nephew Howard Leasure found her body in the closet.

“I touched (Douglas’ shoe),” Leasure told Oxygen. “It felt cold and clammy. I thought, ‘Oh, my Lord. It’s her.’ I pretty much lost it. It’s something I’ll never forget, to find her like that.”

Other case facts delved into include details of Ramsay’s identification, which started with police investigating what were thought to be unrelated petty crimes in the nearby area. Those included a break-in at a construction site where a cellphone had been left behind.That device was traced back to a friend of Ramsay’s who linked him to all of the recent incidents.

Ramsay reportedly was brought in for questioning where he admitted to the petty crimes and also to a recent carjacking.

Investigators brought up Douglas’ murder during those sessions but Ramsay reportedly denied any involvement. An ensuing search of the teenager’s cellphone garnered horrifying findings — photos and recordings of Douglas taken in her home without her consent.

Ramsay then confessed to the killing, saying he’d strangled Douglas when she woke up but before she realized what he was doing.

Police also found Douglas’ wallet in Ramsay’s bedroom and found one of his gloves inside her home.

Experts testified that Ramsay suffers from numerous disorders including gaining sexual arousal from the suffering of others. The defense and family members also argued the teen’s behavior might have been made worse by taking the prescription antidepressant Zoloft.

During the sentencing hearing, Thompson said life without parole was appropriate for Ramsay. He emphasized Ramsay’s apparent lack of remorse following the murder and pointed to evidence showing the teen had been writing about murder.

State law change could shorten Ramsay’s sentence

Thompson reiterated concerns Sunday regarding a soon-to-be in effect state law change that could drastically reduce Ramsay’s life sentence.

Ohio Senate Bill 256 will grant parole eligibility to individuals convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape, after serving 25 to 30 years in prison if they committed those crimes before turning 18.

“I’ve spoke to the state Legislature numerous times in opposition to this,” Thompson said. “I don’t agree with it but I have to uphold the law. The people who are pushing this are primarily focusing on the level of brain development of teenagers. They said a person who’s acting this way at 17 isn’t doing that with a fully developed brain.”

Those convicted of aggravated murder as juveniles, such as Ramsay, will be evaluated for parole eligibility after serving 25 years if their offense involved the killing of one person. If two people were killed, parole eligibility will be looked at after 30 years.

SB 256 also create a new crime classification, aggravated homicide offenses, which involves the killing of three or more people and will still be eligible for a juvenile sentence of life without parole.

A new section of Ohio Revised Code states that parole board members must consider factors in the crime related to offenders’ age at the time, which for Ramsay was 17. It goes on to say “hallmark features, including intellectual capacity, immaturity, impetuosity and a failure to appreciate risks and consequences” also will be part of future decision making.

Changes are slated to go into effect April 12.

Ramsay’s appeal effort could make its way back to Medina County under these new provisions some time this year, Thompson said.

“The appeal court could also impart the sentencing changes under 256 but they can also remand it back to the trial court,” Thompson said. “I would anticipate that being this year. The Supreme Court kicked it back to the 9th Circuit and that’s when 256 was passed. We’re going to be seeing the case again.”

Family worries new law paves a road out of prison for convicted killer of 98-year-old woman

Responses to statements made by sponsors can be found here.

New law gets rid of life without parole for teens

By: Scott Noll

CANTON, Ohio — When Cindy Leasure heard the judge sentence her aunt’s killer to life in prison without parole, there was a sense of finality. But three years after Margaret Douglas was strangled to death inside her Wadsworth home, a new Ohio law could pave a way out of prison for Douglas’s convicted killer.

“When he was sentenced it was like okay, we took a criminal off the road, we took him out of society,” said Leasure. “And now you’re looking at here we go. Now he may be back in society at some time.”

Senate Bill 256 goes into effect Monday. It gets rid of life without parole prison sentences for most criminals who were teens when they committed their crimes in Ohio.

It also makes teen offenders eligible for parole after serving between 18 and 30 years in prison, depending on their crimes.

“While SB 256 abolishes discretionary life without parole for juvenile offenders, those juveniles convicted of homicide must serve 25 years before their first parole hearing,” said State Senator Nathan Manning, the primary sponsor of SB 256, in a statement provided to News 5. “In no way does this new law guarantee release for offenders, only an opportunity for parole if they can show that they are truly rehabilitated. The Supreme Court has declared the sentence of juvenile life without parole unconstitutional, thus SB 256 brings Ohio into line with federal law.”

Gavon Ramsay was 17 years old when investigators said he walked into Douglas’s home, strangled her, and abused her body.

Ramsay pleaded no contest to aggravated murder and other charges, and was sentenced in January 2019.

Leasure and her husband, who found his aunt’s body stuffed into a living room closet, were in the courtroom for the sentencing.

“It was just a relief to know that this person could not harm anybody else ever again,” said Leasure.

Now she’s angry the new law could pave a path for Ramsay to someday walk free.

“This is not some poor little juvenile that did something and got punished for life,” said Leasure. “You deserve that. You lost rights when you walked into her house uninvited.”

Former State Senator Peggy Lehner, who co-sponsored the bill, said it’s about giving hope to young people locked up for life.

“I think it gives a purpose to rehabilitation,” said Lehner, a Republican from Montgomery County. “If you’re never going to walk out of the door of a prison, if you’re never going to have a chance to go back to society, or get a job, raise a family, any of those things, there’s not a whole lot of point in doing rehabilitation.”

Under the law, Ramsay would be eligible for parole when he’s 42 years old.

Leasure and her family said they plan to fight for changes that ensure he never walks free again.

“We owe it to Margaret,” said Leasure, “because no one should have to be murdered and go through the horror and torment she went through that night.”

Lehner stressed the new law does not guarantee criminals will be released. She said it only provides them with the opportunity to go before the parole board and make their case for release.

“Over the past two General Assemblies serious efforts have been made toward sentencing reform,” Manning said. “Although, mainly focused on those suffering from addiction, we have also focused on minors involved in serious felonies and how their chance for rehabilitation is more plausible based on their age. This in no way excuses violent offenses, it simply provides a path toward parole for minor offenders after serving a minimum of 25 years.”

Lawmakers prepare to override Hogan’s veto of juvenile justice reform bill


Lawmakers are preparing to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a juvenile justice reform bill. The measure allows minors to seek a reduction in their sentences after they serve 20 years in prison.

But there is growing concern that if it becomes law, it will have a devastating impact on crime victims and surviving family members.

Those opposed to the bill argue it makes the state less safe, gives violent criminals a chance for early release and future criminals a break on how long they remain behind bars.

“We are left with an empty spot in our hearts. I don’t understand why so much attention has been given to people who have committed the crime and their welfare,” said Debbie Sorrells, the mother of fallen Baltimore County police Officer Amy Caprio.

Debbie and Gary Sorrells are the parents of Caprio, killed in the line of duty in May 2018. Four teens are serving time for the crime. She responded to a report of a suspicious Jeep. As three teens burglarized homes, the Jeep’s 17-year-old driver ran Caprio over when she ordered him to get out of the car.

Hogan vetoed legislation that prohibits the court to sentence minors to life without parole. The measure also allows the teens to seek a reduction in their sentences after serving 20 years in prison.

|| Read the governor’s veto letter here ||

“What is proposed will cause the family and our extended family and all of our friends to have to go back to square one and relive the entire experience. It renews all the original feelings and turmoil and anxieties that were created at the time,” Gary Sorrells said.

The bill provides an opportunity every three years for defendants to ask a judge to modify their sentence. The Caprio family would have to go back to court and relive the tragedy 13 times in 11 years.

“We think this is horrible for the victims, and we feel like it is really important that this veto stay in place and this not become law,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said.

“I cannot imagine having to relieve the worst day of their lives over and over and over again,” Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Zarena Sita said.

“As things mellow out a little bit and you try to get your life back in order again, it just takes everybody back to this dark abyss that occurred for really no good reason,” Sorrells said.

“With every choice, there is a consequence and I truly believe that those who have committed the crime need to have a consequence,” Debbie Sorrells said.

There are enough votes in the House and Senate to override the governor’s veto. So far, nothing has been scheduled. The session ends midnight Monday.

Maryland Governor Vetoes Bill Prohibiting Juvenile Life Sentences

(NOVJM is mentioned in the video segment at the end).

By Brian Witte Published April 9, 2021

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a pair of vetoes Thursday night, including a measure that would prevent juveniles charged as adults from being sentenced to life in prison without parole and a bill that would expand the state’s prevailing wage law on public works project contracts.

Hogan also announced a number of measures that will go into law without his signature, including bills to make it easier to vote early or by mail.

Measures approved by the General Assembly aimed at improving to the state’s unemployment system also will go into law without Hogan’s signature.

Both measures vetoed by Hogan were passed by the legislature with enough votes for the General Assembly to override the vetoes. Leaders of the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, expressed confidence the vetoes will be overridden before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn on Monday.

While the Republican governor said he supports criminal justice reform, he said the bill he vetoed regarding the sentencing of juveniles pertains to “heinous” crimes such as first-degree murder.

“These are serious crimes that require the most serious of consequences, which is why a judge or jury sentences the individual to a lengthy determinate sentence, life imprisonment, or life imprisonment without parole,” Hogan said.

The bill also would enable a court to impose a sentence less than the minimum term required under law, when sentencing a minor convicted as an adult.

The other measure Hogan vetoed would expand the state’s prevailing wage law to include a public work project contract with a value of $250,000 or more, instead of $500,000, or a public work project in which state funds constitute at least 25% of the construction costs instead of at least 50%. In government contracting, a prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage normally paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area.

Hogan said the bill would cause negative unintended consequences for employers and workers.

“Legislation such as this that arbitrarily inflates cost, impedes participation, and stifles competition — all at a higher price for taxpayers — absolutely is not in the best interest of our state,” Hogan said.

Some of the measures that will become law without the governor’s signature include legislation to increase the number of early voting centers, based on how many registered voters live in jurisdictions. Another measure allows a voter to request permanent absentee-ballot status and creates provisions governing the designation of ballot drop-box locations.

In his veto letter, Hogan wrote that mail-in voting in Maryland was successful in last year’s election and should continue. However, he said the measure “creates a bureaucratic morass of mailings that will inevitably result in ballots being incorrectly mailed to ineligible voters.”

“While I appreciate provisions in the bill trying to scrub ineligible voters from the list and install security cameras at ballot drop boxes, I believe the legislation in its current form may create more problems than it solves,” Hogan wrote.