New Mexico SB 247

Please sign this petition to block SB 247, which could free Clovis Carver Library mass shooter Nathaniel Jouett after only 15 years and would re-traumatize victims.

Summary

New Mexico SB 247 is yet another bill that seeks to significantly reduce juvenile offenders’ sentences at the expense of justice, safety, and victims’ rights. The first version would have required juvenile criminals to be eligible for parole after no more than 10 years in prison. With a new amendment, juvenile perpetrators would be entitled to parole hearings after 15 years. Juvenile offenders, including those responsible for serious crimes, would be entitled to parole hearings every two years. By requiring sentences that are grossly lenient for some crimes, SB 247 denies justice and demeans serious crimes. It also would force victims to endure up to dozens of traumatic parole hearings. NOVJM stands firmly against SB 247.

What it would do

All juvenile criminals would be eligible for parole after only 15 years. They would be entitled to parole hearings every two years after that. The first version mandated parole eligibility after only 10 years.

Text

First version

Section 31-21-10.2 NMSA

1978

A. A serious youthful offender sentenced under

Section 31-18-15.3 NMSA 1978 or a youthful offender sentenced

as an adult under Section 32A-2-20 NMSA 1978 shall be entitled

to a parole hearing after serving ten years of the offender’s

sentence, unless the offender is subject to earlier eligibility

for parole pursuant to another provision of law or on the

recommendation of the warden of the facility in which the

offender is incarcerated. The parole hearing shall occur

whether the offender is serving sentences for multiple crimes

concurrently or consecutively.

B. If parole is denied, the offender shall be

entitled to a parole hearing not less than every two years

thereafter, unless the offender is subject to earlier

eligibility for parole pursuant to any other provision of law.

F. The parole board shall annually conduct a review

of all offenders currently serving an adult sentence for an

offense committed as a child to ensure that parole eligibility

hearings required pursuant to this section are timely

conducted.”

Bold text added.

Text after amendments

Section A was amended to read:

A serious youthful offender sentenced under

Section 31-18-15.3 NMSA 1978 or a youthful offender sentenced

as an adult under Section 32A-2-20 NMSA 1978 shall be entitled

to a parole hearing after serving fifteen years of the offender’s

sentence, unless the offender is subject to earlier eligibility

for parole pursuant to another provision of law or on the

recommendation of the warden of the facility in which the

offender is incarcerated. The parole hearing shall occur

whether the offender is serving sentences for multiple crimes

concurrently or consecutively.

Bold text added.

Why we oppose SB 247 (first version)

Clovis Carver Library shooting victim Wanda Walters

NOVJM strongly opposes SB 247. The bill would make all juvenile criminals, even those responsible for serious crimes like rape and murder eligible for parole after only 10 years in prison and every two years after that. This would deny justice to victims and impose additional suffering upon them. 

For there to be justice, a sentence must be proportionate to the crime. 10 years is a grossly lenient sentence for some serious crimes and denies justice. SB 247 demeans serious crimes by stating that they only warrant 10 years in prison. Consider, for example, the murder of Katherine Cardenas in the neighboring state of Texas. 16-year-old Jose Arredondo kidnapped Katherine, raped her, and strangled and beat her to death. Katherine was two years old. To say that 10 years to life is a proportionate punishment to a highly aggravated murder like that demeans it. Sentencing a murderer like Arredondo to 10 years to life would also demean the value of what he took-Katherine’s life. 

Clovis Carver Library shooting victim Krissie Carter

One offender who could be released early by SB 247 is Nathaniel Jouett. Jouett was 16 when he went on a shooting rampage at the Clovis-Carver Library that left two women dead and four others, including a 10-year-old child, injured.

SB 247 would impose significant suffering onto murder victims’ families and other victims. Many victims whose loved ones are brutally murdered or whose lives are destroyed by violent criminals oppose the criminals’ release. They are especially opposed to the idea of the offenders being released after only 10 years in prison. To prevent release, they will speak up at parole hearings. 

The parole process is very traumatizing for victims. Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD flare up. They relive the worst experiences of their lives, leading them to suffer nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. For many victims, the release of the assailant is not only an injustice, but a potential danger. Many victims fear retaliation and justifiably so–perpetrators do sometimes hunt down victims and retaliate against them. Victims’ understandable fear of the offenders is indescribable.

For murder victims’ families, one parole hearing is traumatizing enough. SB 247 would force victims to endure not one parole hearing, not two parole hearings, not three parole hearings, but up to dozens of parole hearings in their lifetimes.  A 17-year-old murderer would get a parole hearing at age 27. Then at 29. Then at 31. Then at 33. Then at 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 67, 69, 71, 73, and 75. If he lives to be 75, he will get 25 parole hearings, assuming he doesn’t ultimately get out. His victims would relive the crime over two dozen times. They would experience a never-ending cycle of traumatizing and painful parole hearings and live knowing that even if they prevent parole this time, they will have to do it all over again after two years and then two years after that and two years after that. They would never get a break. To inflict this onto victims is beyond cruel. 

The goal of SB 247 is to release as many juvenile criminals as possible. It seeks to achieve this goal by giving juvenile offenders excessive numbers of parole hearings after short amounts of time in prison. Forgotten are the victims, who would be forced to relive the crimes again and again and again. Also forgotten are the public, who would be endangered. SB 247 is perhaps the most extreme and most harmful bill that has ever been advanced by juvenile offender advocates. And that’s a high bar.  NOVJM strongly opposes this outrageously cruel bill. 

Position on amendments

We are thankful that the Senate Health & Public Affairs Committee was willing to amend the bill by mandating parole hearings after 15 years instead of 10. This is an improvement. However, 15 years still may be too lenient for some highly aggravated crimes. And the amendment did not address our other major concern–the repeated tormenting of victims every two years.

Under the first version, a 17-year-old murderer who lives to be 75 would be entitled to 25 parole hearings, assuming he isn’t released at some point. Under this new version, a 17-year-old murderer would get his first parole hearing at age 32. Then another one at 34. Then another one at 36. Then more hearings at 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72, and 74. That’s 22 parole hearings, three less than under the first version. So while increasing the offenders’ sentences by five years may seem like a major compromise, it really isn’t so long as these criminals get parole hearings every two years.

In addition to mandating potentially dozens of parole hearings–a move that will trap victims in an eternal cycle of trauma and pain–the new version requires sentences that are grossly lenient for some crimes. And 15 years is, without a doubt, grossly lenient for some crimes. Consider the case of Johnny Orsinger. At 16, he murdered four people. In one case, Orsinger and his accomplices carjacked and kidnapped two men and shot them to death. Two months later, Orsinger and a co-defendant tricked a woman into giving them a ride. The woman and her nine-year-old granddaughter were on their way to visit a traditional Native American medicine person in Tohatchi, New Mexico. But they never got there. Orsinger and his accomplice stabbed the grandmother 33 times and kidnapped her granddaughter. They took the child on a 30-40 mile ride into the Chuska Mountains. During this ride, they forced the little girl to sit in back next to her grandmother’s body. They then murdered her to avoid getting caught. They did so by slitting her throat and dropping large rocks on her head. Orsinger and his fellow killer then severed the victims’ hands and heads from their bodies. They buried the hands and heads and hid the torsos in the woods.

Under SB 247, a quadruple murderer like Orsinger could potentially be released after 15 years, serving less than four years per victim. 15 years is a deeply unjust sentence for a man who brutally murders four people, including a nine-year-old child. After the 15 years have gone by, he would be entitled to dozens of parole hearings and would be able to continue tormenting and torturing the victims’ families. This is just not fair.

SB 247 still needs substantial improvement. It is just wrong to force victims to relive the crimes dozens of times. It is just wrong to allow mass murderers to be released after serving a handful of years per victim. The current version does not adequately consider victims and is not a compromise. NOVJM respectfully requests that lawmakers show victims at least the same amount of compassion that they are showing our loved ones’ murderers.

NOVJM testimony

Read NOVJM testimony on SB 247.

News

Legislation proposes parole eligibility for juveniles serving life sentences

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A couple of Democratic state lawmakers are looking to get kids who are serving life sentences eligible for parole after 15 years. However, the proposal is facing pushback. Proponents said people who’ve committed crimes when they were younger and who are still paying the price for it by staying behind bars for decades, can return to society as productive members.

“We are not monsters,” said Eric Alexander in support of the bill; Alexander said he faced time behind bars after a crime he committed when he was younger. “Yes, we made critical errors in our judgments as adolescents but we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

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.