Illinois Legislators Debate How to Apply Supreme Court Ruling
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As of the end of the spring 2013 legislative session, the majority of legislators have refused to support the extreme proposals of HB 1348, a bill pushed by offender advocates who are attempting to go far beyond the requirements ofMiller v Alabama in the following ways:
1. They want to apply Miller retroactively. See below for why this is unacceptable to us.
2. They want to apply the Miller ruling to many cases of juvenile offenders not addressed by the Supreme Court, which only ruled on those sentenced to life without parole. This bill instead proposes to cover any juvenile offender tried and sentenced as an adult to 40 years or more for many serious violent crimes.
3. HB 1348 would torture victims families with repeated re-openings of the sentence, subjecting us to constant re-engagement with the offender for the rest of OUR lives.
What we know as of late May 2013 is that juvenile justice reform advocates failed to garner even half the votes they needed to try to pass this over-reaching bill. And we know that they have consistently failed to treat victims families with the same concern and compassion that they have treated those that murdered our loved ones. That has been the most unbelievable part of all. Since these advocates refuse to support legislation that will simply bring Illinois into compliance with the requirements of the Miller ruling – that life sentences should not be MANDATORY for juveniles tried as adults – it appears that the stalemate in Illinois will continue for some time.
The National Debate Continues
As with other states, Illinois legislators will be asked to decide competing views of how to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v Alabama. The majority of states have already decided to comply with the ruling in the most literal fashion of the spirit of the ruling – keep life without parole sentences as an option going forward, as the Court holds up as a model. And not apply the ruling retroactively, as offender advocates are asking them to do.
The Illinois States Attorneys Association, with support from law enforcement and victims’ families have written legislation that will fully comply with the Supreme Court ruling in Miller and that will keep life sentences available as an option, as the Supreme Court allowed. Complying with long standing jurisprudence and the Teague Rule, legal experts know that the Miller ruling should not be considered retroactive. It applies only to cases of teen killers still open under direct appeal, and all future cases. Due process cannot be re-created on long-since final cases from years ago.
But there is also a retroactive proposal on the table in 2013 from State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie on behalf of Illinois Human Rights Watch and the convicted murderers asking legislators to ignore those legal concerns and re-open not only most of the JLWOP cases in Illinois, but thousands of other juvenile offenders’ serious violent crime cases as well.
Key to an understanding of how Illinois law should be crafted is a previous Illinois Supreme Court decision from 2002 ruling in the case of Leon Miller (no relation to the Miller v Alabama US Supreme Court case of 2012). The Illinois Supreme Court, long in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled the same – that JLWOP sentences cannot be mandatory and that this cannot apply retroactively.
The issue is decided, yet well-funded advocates for the offenders persist to try to free our loved ones murderers and re-open our long since finalized cases.
These offenders received full due process of law and had many opportunities to argue and prove that they did not deserve these sentences. VERY few teens who kill are even tried as adults, much less receiving a life sentence – only about 100 cases over many decades. All of them committed highly aggravated offenses, not “mere” single homicides. Some of the horrific crimes are detailed here.
Illinois legislators can be contacted at www.ilga.gov. Victims’ families ask that you urge a NO vote on HB 1348 in 2013.
Importance of Notifying Victims’ Families
Victims families of the approximately 100 cases affected by the retroactive proposal in HB 1348 on behalf of Illinois Human Rights Watch and the convicted murderers have NOT been notified. Only a handful of families already members of NOVJL know about the upcoming debate. We are concerned that the legislature should not proceed until these families have a chance to make their voices heard in sentencing matters, as is their constitutional right. Human Rights Watch should be consistent their own positions and support the rights of victims as well as offenders. One of the most important rights for victims is to be notified of, and heard in, matters pertaining to their cases.
Previous Legislative Battles in Illinois
Two Bills in Illinois, HB 1695 and HB 4384 in years past, had been filed and hearings have been held on them, so some NOVJL members were alerted to the extreme agenda with regards to these offenders that took NO care for the impact on victims families. These bills would have retroactively require parole opportunities to convicted murderers serving natural life sentences, if the offenders were under 18 at the time of the crime. Illinois did away with all parole structures in 1978 in favor of a much fairer determinate sentencing system.
NOVJL member victims families presented testimony at these hearings starting in 2009 and met with legislators.
The bills never made it out of committee. We hope that this sent an important message to offender advocates. We particularly want to thank Representative Robert Molaro (now retired), the lead sponsor for HB 1695 and HB 4384, because even though his bill to end JLWOP was deeply problematic, he did want to reform juvenile sentencing, something many of us agree with. He met with us victims families and heard our concerns. And, most laudably, he stood firm that he would not take the bills to committee without a full hearing from victims families and prosecutors.
Once that full hearing took place, and the truth of these cases were told, the bill died – as it should have – and has not been resurrected.
We do know that offender advocates in Illinois are still working to end JLWOP in Illinois. And they are working, offender by offender, to overturn sentences as they can. We support the use of the judicial system, not the legislature, to make sure just sentences are given and maintained.
We also know that most of the families of the victims of these crimes have NO idea that the natural life sentences that they walked away from, believing them to be permanent and the trial agonies at least behind them, are under threat.
We will not rest until every victim family of these offenders knows about the legislative and legal threat to the cases.
According to the offender advocates there are 103 of these cases in Illinois. We are not sure of those numbers, for two reasons.
1. In Illinois, criminal adult age for felonies is 17, not 18. In fact many states have varying “adult” ages, in accordance with the Constitutional role of states to define criminal law for their states.
2. We have only seen a list of about 60 names. We were grateful to the Illinois Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Children for providing at least those case names when they promised to give us the full list of case names. But 60 names was all they gave us.
See the list of cases and victims that we know of in Illinois.
Download a legal brief written for the state of Illinois by the National Crime Victims Law Institute detailing the unconsitutionality of legislation proposed in Illinois to retroactively undo natural life sentences.
Impact of Legislation on Victims Families
This letter below is from one of the Illinois JLWOP Victim families to Rep. Molaro at the filing of HB 4384 – it gives a small sample of the hell victims families go through when legislation to free their loved ones’ killers is filed:
February 17, 2008
Representative Robert S. Molaro , 21st District
Re: House Bill 4384
My name is ( P.P), and I am a constituent of yours. I live in your district, as do many of my family and friends. I write you today as the voice for some one who no longer has one. I speak for my brother 13 year old RDP who is now buried in St.Marys Cemetery in Evergreen Park, IL. I also speak on behalf of ML a 12 year old boy who was also cold heartedly murdered with my brother. You see Rep. Molaro, things were not supposed to end up this way. Writing you this letter, pleading with you to change House Bill 4384 was not supposed to be a part of my destiny. No, my brother R and M should still be alive, with our family, enjoying a college education, living the life granted to them by God.
My parents were blessed with three children. I am the eldest of the three, followed by my sister M, and my only brother R. I will never forget December 17, 1986 the night my brother was born. It was such a special night, after nine long months of waiting for my mom to have him we could finally welcome R home! He was such a good happy boy. R enjoyed making every one laugh with his funny jokes. He got his sense of humor from my father. They were best of friends, and a splitting image of each other. I remember helping little R with his homework, and getting big “bear hugs” from him before bed. He had big beautiful eyes like a baby doe. My little brother wanted to be an architect when he grew up. He loved to draw, and even enjoyed singing. The last song he sang with me was a song by Billy Holiday “At Last”. Our life was full of song, but that was so long ago. I could go on and on about how wonderful my brother was because these days all I have are memories.
Instead I’m going to fast forward to a date you and my brother R have in common. Mr.Molaro for you June 29th is a day of celebration because it’s your birthday! For my family every year on 29th we relive a nightmare. For R and M June 29, 2000 was their last day on earth. It was the day two cold hearted fully aware, competent “Juveniles” decided to end their life with a spray of bullets.
The killers: RH was 16 going on 17 and JC 18. I don’t consider them children, I call them what they are: Murderers. They both came from big families that loved them; one of the boys RH even has a Police man for an uncle, in the C Police department, the same town which the lives of R and M were taken. These murderers knew right from wrong. JC was already a father himself to many children yet he decided to murder someone else’s children. They were held accountable by the Court of Law as adults, and rightfully so.
The killers aren’t the children in this case, my brother and (M) were.
The killers were old enough to drive, old enough to have sex and have children of their own. They were old enough to make a conscious decision to ride around on bikes the night of June 29th 2000, to retaliate against gang members they had dealings with earlier. They couldn’t find who they were looking for, but decided to ride down one more block. They came across a home with kids who had just finished a basket ball game, and where resting on the front porch. Enjoying the summer night, laughing, school was out, 4th of July was around the corner and excitement was in the air! You can read the court transcripts to get the details of how this all took place. It’s hard enough reliving part of it through this letter. The bottom line is these murderers shot round after round directly at all of the children on the front porch. My brother ran for his life into the house, but he was hit in the back. The bullet shattered and ripped his once beating heart apart. 12 year old M never had a chance to run because he was shot right on the step he sat on. He died faced down on the very step he had been relaxing on a few minutes earlier.
My mother was upstairs with my sister when they heard the sound of shots fired and kids screaming. For a brief moment they thought it was fire crackers because of how the shots where fired one after another. Then they heard the dreadful screams of real children. My sister M ran down to the front porch and was frantic, looking for my brother R. She saw M dead on the stairs. The other kids that survived told her my brother was alright; that he had ran inside the first floor apartment and was just in shock. My sister ran inside the house, and found my brother lying on the kitchen floor. She searched his body for wounds but couldn’t immediately find any. She said his big beautiful eyes where open, and he was just looking at her. She finally checked his back, and found only a tiny wound where the .22 caliber bullet when in. She heard air bubbles in his chest, and knew. M knew in her heart my brother was dying. She held him in her arms and prayed with him. She kissed him and just kept praying until the ambulance arrived.
My mother was trying to get into the ambulance to ride with her only son, but they would not allow it. Just a few minutes earlier my brother was upstairs talking to her, asking for permission to stay on the front porch with the other kids – “please mom just five more minutes”. After all he was right on the front porch. Nothing was supposed to happen to him.
My father was at work because he works nights at the United States Post Office. Before he left to work that night, as he did every night, my brother gave him a kiss and a hug. He said “I’ll see you in the morning, I Love You Dad”. Those where the last words he spoke to my father. This was a normal thing because they had such love for each other. They had plans do lots of fun things together that weekend. Earlier that day my dad even picked up my little 12 year old cousin E G to sleep over because he was going to join them in the weekend fun. We never thought we’d be planning a funeral. I just thank God that my little cousin wasn’t killed too. But he too has to relive the horror of that night when he tries to fall asleep.
Rep. Molaro this nightmare came out of nowhere. This is one of those things that “can never happen to you”. Never in a million years would I have thought we would have lost my brother to murder. He was a child, a baby boy innocent in every way. God fearing, respectful, loving, honored my mother and father, and had deep respect for his older sisters. He was kept away from the very gang-banging juvenile delinquents that killed him, and M for no better reason than a thrill.
The two murderers admitted they had never seen R or M before this night; they described how they made the decision to ride around on bikes instead of take a car because they feared being pulled over by the C police. They didn’t want a car to be impounded, or identified. One of them even proudly reenacted how the murders took place in a video tapped confession. They knew they were out to kill that night; they weren’t going home until they got satisfaction. They didn’t want to waste their bullets. The honorable Judge T said when sentencing these murderers to Life Without Parole, he wouldn’t have given them a lesser sentence for what they had done. Judge T said R and M made a conscious decision not to involve themselves with gangs and their two murderers made conscious decision to do the opposite. Preying on the lives of innocent children unaware of what was about to happen!
Mr. Molaro, if it was up to R H and J C all of the kids on the porch that night would be dead. Sometimes I think to my self if my little brother had only been street smart he would have never turned his back to run, he would have ducked, or maybe if he wasn’t so tall for his age the bullet would have missed his back, and would have never gone through his precious heart. I even think to my self, if only these murderers would have used a bigger gun maybe the bullet would have went in and out his shoulder instead of the .22 caliber used, which ultimately shattered inside of him.
But why Mr. Molaro should I have to think of these things? Why should any Mother, Father, Sister, Brother grieve the loss of a loved one taken by the hands of a murderer? I know we do not live in a perfect world. I’m already passed that, and rely on the strength from God and his son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to help us move forward. Knowing this world we live in is not what God intended it to be, but through his son Jesus Christ we will be together with R and M.
Mr. Molaro I beg of you to CHANGE House Bill 4384. Do not impose on victims’ families the periodic reviews for release. Instead work with me, and other victims’ families to find a way to make reforms that may (or may not) be needed without parole being brought back in retroactively for life without parole sentences. Please meet with me before going forward with this. Do not subject the victim’s families to this trauma. Murderers took the lives of my brother R and M. Who is the voice for the real victims?
When I first heard news of this Bill, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it, how could anyone call someone who committed cold blooded murder a child after reading what I just wrote you? With all the money and staff that went into the Juvenile Life Study, why weren’t the victims’ families notified? “If almost all of the inmates where interviewed why not all 103 of the families they’ve torn apart? We had to find out through the media and for lack of a better word that was cruel.
When our case went to trial I knew the justice system would prevail. We had to go through three separate trials. I don’t ask for the death penalty, but I ask for what we were promised. I beg of anyone with the power to keep the sentences given to these murderers Life in Prison Without Parole. House Bill 4384 as it is will make us suffer over and over again. Mr. Molaro I read in an article you said families should want to be a part of these hearings. Believe me when I say we will be a part of every hearing if it came down to that. But, why should our hearts be ripped out and stomped on over and over again?
The two sentenced for the deaths of R and M can still breathe. They may be behind bars, but they deserve to be there for the rest of their life. Yes, they still live. There families can still talk to them, visit them, kiss, hug, and hear their voices. To me, that alone is a wonderful gift they should be content with. My mother and father can only look at pictures and talk to a gravestone because of what they did.
A person can be forgiven on a spiritual level, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t serve their original sentence. If these researchers feel some reform is possible, fine. Let them reform them selves in prison serving their life sentences. Maybe these researchers can come up with a program especially for the 103 while serving out their life sentence, to counsel those newly sentenced who haven’t murdered on how not to murder when they get released. If all 103 of these “juveniles”, had mental issues or lack of brain development, it would have been brought out in trial by their defense attorneys. They would have been sent to a mental institution instead.
In our case, the murderers knew exactly what they were doing. As I stated earlier they were already living adult lives. My brother who was 13 years old new it was wrong to commit murder so why wouldn’t a 16 and 18 year old know? They do know! Of course now years have passed and they have had time to think of how they can now convince others they didn’t mean it, or they where little children, with an underdeveloped brain who didn’t know pulling a trigger would kill. I don’t buy it, and neither should you. They knew full well what they were doing because they talked about it.
Mr.Molaro you have five children of your own, could you imagine if this was happening to you? To lose a loved one by natural causes of death is bad enough. Imagine that one of your children or loved ones had been murdered in cold blood, by a “juvenile”. The only closure you had was a promise they would never walk the streets again, and never be able to kill again. Just to find out the very promise given to you by your protector, the Justice system was now potentially being taken away. Why? To benefit the murderer that took your child or loved one in the first place! This is now our reality. Where is the Justice for the real victims in this? Please do not take away the tiny bit of closure we have.
Can you imagine how crime could sky rocket if House Bill 4384 is passed? Murder will increase as never seen before. Juveniles will know they will get nothing more than a slap on the wrist for committing murder. How will you feel when that happens? Gang bangers over 18 will simply get a “juvenile” to commit the killings. Senseless, cold-blooded murder will take place all over the streets of Chicago and Illinois. Instead, time should be invested in real children who are not in prison, so we can keep them out of prison. The only solution is to be proactive not retroactive. I know you sponsor this Bill and are the originator of it, because you feel you’re doing something for the greater good. But Sir, with all due respect, House Bill 4384 retroactively is not good. Again, I ask you to please meet with me and other victims’ families. Give us the opportunity to work with you regarding this matter. You can make changes, and I pray something will open your heart and mind to our reality. I look forward to a meeting with you.
Also, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to you for the passing of your mother. I realize this is a difficult time, my thoughts and prayers are with your family.