DES MOINES – Relative of murder victims Wednesday appealed to a Senate panel to require that juveniles who commit first-degree murder while they are under the age of 18 serve at least 35 years in prison before they are candidates for release.
Angie Camlin, whose mother and stepfather were murdered in May 2012 by their nephew who was 17 at the time, said she has “very dark personal moments” as she awaits the perpetrator’s sentencing and she fears she’ll “be looking over my shoulder” in fear of retaliation if he is eligible for release after serving time in prison rather than facing life without parole.
Teresa Ellickson on North Liberty echoed similar concerns that a juvenile who participated in her brother’s 2002 murder now eventually could be released in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life sentences for offenders under 18 are cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee considering juvenile sentencing issues, said he expects to bring a bill before the full committee next week that gives judges discretion to consider “individualized factors” in deciding whether a Class A crime is so egregious it requires life imprisonment or whether a lesser sentence that would provide eventual release would be more appropriate. He said he was not inclined to include a mandatory minimum prison stay for juvenile offenders.
Hogg said he was concerned setting a mandatory minimum of at least 35 years – as county attorneys also requested Wednesday – would not pass constitutional muster.
“I think what we’re trying to provide is options to get some certainty for victims and what they have to go through, and giving that some consideration,” said Black Hawk County Attorney Tom Ferguson. He pointed to a recent Story County case where Yvette Louisell, 43, was resentenced to 25 years in prison for a 1998 first-degree murder conviction in a man’s stabbing death as an example of why solely giving judicial discretion could be problematic.
Fred Scaletta of the state Department of Corrections noted that inmates accrue 1.2 days of earned time for each day in prison so someone sentenced to 35 years could be eligible for release much sooner.
“When a life has been taken and many other lives affected by the decision of another person to kill,” Camlin said, “I just feel there should be an expectation of our system to have at least 35 years to be away from the general public, mainly for everyone’s safety.”
Comments: (515) 243-7220; firstname.lastname@example.org