Ohio’s Senate Bill 256 would allow juvenile offenders to be paroled after 18-30 years of imprisonment depending on the crimes they committed. NOVJM opposes this bill for the reasons explained in our letter below. Please contact email@example.com if you would like to speak with us about the bill.
Letters To Ohio Lawmakers
A letter from NOVJM
I am writing on behalf of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM), as I am the organization’s coordinator for the state of Ohio. NOVJM is dedicated to helping people who have lost loved ones to juvenile murderers. We are deeply concerned about Senate Bill 256, which would ban life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juvenile offenders, mainly because it would lead to the re-traumatization of victims through re-sentencing and parole hearings. NOVJM does not take positions on how specific offenders should be sentenced. We do, however, believe that juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) should be available in rare cases where juveniles commit crimes reflecting severe depravity and cruelty.
Allowing all juvenile offenders to have a chance to be released will cause significant emotional pain for victims. If the bill is retroactive then many offenders will need to be re-sentenced. The resulting re-sentencing hearings would cause serious harm and re-traumatization to people who have already suffered the worst losses imaginable.
Even if the bill were to only apply to future cases, it would still cause victims pain in the form of parole hearings. After 18-30 years when the offenders are up for parole, victims would be forced to relive the crimes. Victims would never have a sense of finality and would never be allowed to move on.
Additionally, there is the issue of fairness and justice. There are crimes, some of them committed by juveniles, that warrant LWOP sentences. In these cases, LWOP is not disproportionate to the crimes and is not “cruel and unusual” when one considers the details of the crimes. There are many examples of these kinds of crimes on our website.
Currently, the national debate about JLWOP mostly concerns the juvenile offenders, who, as a result of their own choices, were sentenced to prison terms. The victims, however, who did not choose what was done to them, are forgotten. Rather than being allowed justice and legal finality, they are condemned to spend the rest of their lives re-living the traumatic crimes and re-engaging with the offenders. This is deeply unfair and unjust.
NOVJM respectfully asks that Senate Bill 256, as it currently stands, not be made law.
A letter from one of our volunteers
To whom it may concern:
Juvenile offenders need to be held fully accountable for their actions. Watering down sentencing because of the misguided beliefs that these inmates are able to be rehabilitated is highly questionable given the complexity of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation assumes that these inmates are fully engaged into “meaningful programming” designed specifically for their needs and facilitated by experts in forensics mental health. I can’t speak of every prison but the many I do know of have limited rehabilitative programming and or inexperienced practitioners. Societies have the right to live in peace and not in fear. When it comes to the most serious crimes, releasing juveniles as relatively young men is a risk that is unacceptable. Many of these inmates have significant mental illness in the form of personality disorders. Personality disorders are very complicated and some to many experts suggest are untreatable yet you are asking communities to put faith into substandard rehabilitation programs in prison to address these serious issues? An 8-week anger management group is not the sort of help these inmates need for rehabilitation and the prisons are not willing to invest into true rehabilitation. On another note, have you considered the emotion impact the victims’ families have to go through with parole hearings? Retraumatizing victims’ families sounds just cruel and insensitive. These true victims will never be whole and the only peace they have is that maximum justice is served and the worst of the worst are kept away from society. SB 256 is misguided and assumes time fixes certain problems. This sort of belief is just narrow minded and ill informed. I ask that you take the time and speak with victims of violent crime and understand the complex science of treatment and rehabilitation and ask yourself, “Is our state systems honestly set up for 100% success?” If not, someone’s future life depends on this guarantee and you should not support SB 256.
What SB 256 Would Do
SB 256 would make juvenile offenders eligible for parole after 18-30 years in prison depending on the crimes they are incarcerated for.
Aggravated homicide offense
The bill defines an aggravated homicide offense as: “The offense of aggravated murder or any other offense or combination of offenses that involved the purposeful killing of three or more persons, when the offender is the principal offender in each offense.” Page 3.
What SB 256 would do
The bill would set a maximum sentence of 30 years to life for those guilty of aggravated homicide offenses. Anyone currently in prison for an aggravated homicide offense committed before their 18th birthday will not be eligible for parole under the bill.
Under this bill, the maximum sentence possible for one who commits an aggravated homicide offense would be 30 years to life, regardless of the number of people they kill or the other aggravating circumstances involved. If a 17-year-old murders 30 people in a mass shooting they could be released after 30 years, serving only one year per victim. A juvenile could murder 100, 200 or 1,000 people and still be released after 30 years.
The creators of the bill made an exception for aggravated homicides committed before the enactment. This is basically the T.J. Lane exception. Lane was 17 when he brutally murdered three high school students during the Chardon High School shooting. The creators of the bill probably don’t want to have to argue in favor of releasing the notorious criminal. But if they truly are against freeing mass killer T.J. Lane why would they then want to free any other juvenile criminals who commit similar crimes after the bill’s enactment? A juvenile offender who murders three people in a school shooting after the potential enactment deserves freedom no less than the man who committed the same crime prior to the enactment. Whether or not the crime occurred prior to or after a bill’s enactment is irrelevant in regards to the aggravating circumstances of the crime or the culpability of the offender. The proponents of SB 256 might not want to have to defend making Lane eligible for parole. But what if the bill were to pass and a similar shooting occurred afterword and the mass murderer responsible was eligible for release after 30 years? Could they defend that?
“The offense of murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or reckless homicide or the offense of aggravated murder that is not an
aggravated homicide offense.” Page 3.
What SB 256 would do
The maximum sentence allowed for one guilty of one or two killings–reckless homicide, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, murder, or aggravated murder— would be 25 years to life regardless of the aggravating circumstances. Page 3.
Under this bill, a 17-year-old one day shy of his 18th birthday could brutally murder two people and attempt to murder several others, but still be eligible for parole after 25 years in prison when he is in his early 40s. If he attempts to murder dozens in a mass shooting and injures many but only succeeds in killing two people, we would have to consider releasing him in 25 years. If he is a serial rapist and serial killer and brutally rapes, tortures, and murders two people we would have to consider releasing him in 25 years.
What the bill would do
SB 256 would allow offenders incarcerated for crimes committed as juveniles to be paroled after 18 years, unless they committed “homicide offenses” or “aggravated homicide offenses” as described above. Page 2.
This is not a good idea. If a 17-year-old serial rapist brutally attacks, rapes, tortures, and mutilates 20 women and children, the maximum sentence he could get would be 18 years to life. He could be released after 18 years at age 35, serving roughly one year per victim. The victims would be forced to face him at parole hearings not even two decades after their ordeals. And they would continue to be tormented by him for the rest of their lives. Non-homicide offenders in OH include those guilty of the following, assuming they didn’t commit murder as well.
In some cases, these crimes may warrant more prison time than 18 years.
Offenders SB 256 could release
NOVJM takes no position on how specific offenders should be sentenced. We are explaining the serious nature of these juvenile crimes, not to promote specific sentences, but to show the types of criminals SB 256 would release early. These are just some of the criminals the bill could release into society.
On March 31, 2015 , 15-year-old Larosa broke into the home of 94-year-old Marie Belcastro. He attempted to rape her, and beat her to death with a heavy metal flashlight. He was sentenced to LWOP.
This man murdered two people during a crime spree when he was 17. Here are the details of his case.
On July 21, 2013, Simmonds shot both James Norvet and Quinten Prater in the head. Prater, who was shot with a shotgun, did not survive. Three days later, on July 24, Simmonds fatally shot a third person, Imran Ashgar, a convenience store clerk during a robbery. He shot him in the eye; departed briefly; then returned and shot him a second time in the head as he lay wounded on the floor. Three days after that, during 2 No. 16AP-332 Simmonds’ attempt to flee Ohio, Simmonds approached William Rudd at a gas station, shot him in the face, and stole his truck. Rudd managed to survive. Simmonds was 17 years old when he committed these offenses.
The three complaints all arose from the same course of conduct in July 2013. As pertinent to this appeal, on July 24, 2013, Simmonds, Nathaniel Brunner, and Darrel Durham robbed a convenience store on Livingston Avenue, and Ashgar—who was working behind the counter—was shot and killed during the robbery. Three days after that, on July 27, 2013, Simmonds and Nathaniel Brunner obtained a woman’s car and were driving west on I-70, when the car broke down. Simmonds and Nathaniel Brunner stopped at a truck stop in London, where they shot Rudd in the head while he was gassing his vehicle. They then stole Rudd’s vehicle, but were later arrested in Dayton.
Simmonds was indicted and the case eventually proceeded to jury trial. Among the evidence presented was video surveillance footage clearly showing Simmonds shooting Ashgar twice at point-blank range. Furthermore, witnesses at the truck stop testified that Simmonds shot Rudd in the head. As the Tenth District recounted, “Simmonds basically executed the store clerk
by shooting him in the eye once and then returning to shoot the clerk in the head a second time after the clerk briefly survived the first shot. A few days later, while fleeing central Ohio, Simmonds found himself in need of a motor vehicle. He shot the owner of a vehicle in the head while stealing the car. The owner miraculously survived the shooting and was able to testify at trial.” Simmonds I at ¶ 2. There was a “massive amount of evidence” against Simmonds,
“including surveillance tape showing the clerk being executed.”
As it relates to the Ashgar killing, the jury found Simmonds guilty of aggravated robbery, aggravated murder and murder, all with firearm specifications. As it relates to the Rudd shooting, the jury found Simmonds guilty of aggravated robbery, attempted murder, and felonious assault, all with firearm specifications. The trial court separately found Simmonds guilty of having a weapon while under disability.
Simmonds was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to LWOP plus 48 years. Read more about Simmonds at our memorial for his victims, Imran Ashgar and Quinten Prater.
Non homicide offenders
Chaz Bunch and Brandon Moore
Moore and Bunch kidnapped a young woman and viciously gang-raped her. Bunch is serving a 49 year sentence. Moore was sentenced to 50 years in prison and will be eligible for release at age 62.
Details of what these men did
We are copying the entire graphic expert from the Ohio Supreme Court ruling to illustrate the dangerous nature of releasing violent criminals like Bunch and Moore so early. https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2016/2016-Ohio-8288.pdf
Later that night, at around 10:20, M.K., a 21-year-old student at Youngstown State University, arrived for her night-shift job at a group home for mentally handicapped women. While removing some things from the trunk of her car, she noticed a black car driving up the street and stopping a few houses away.
Moore, wearing a mask, emerged from the vehicle and started running toward her. When he arrived at her vehicle, he pressed a gun against her and instructed her to give him all her money and belongings. When a porch light came on at the group home, Moore ordered M.K. to get into the passenger seat of her car. Moore then got into the driver’s seat, ordered M.K. to start the car, and drove away with her.
As they were driving, he ordered her to give him her jewelry. After they drove a short distance, Moore stopped the car briefly behind the black car. Chaz Bunch entered the victim’s car through the rear passenger door. Bunch put a gun to her head and demanded her money.
Moore continued driving, following the black car, which was being driven by Andre Bundy. As Moore drove, he inserted his fingers into M.K.’s vagina. M.K. pleaded for her life. At one point, Moore drove close enough to the black car that he almost hit it, jerking to a stop; at that point, the cars were so close that M.K. could make out the black car’s license plate. She memorized the number.
Eventually, Moore pulled ahead of the black car and drove down a dead-end street. The black car followed. Both cars parked near a gravel lot, and Bunch ordered M.K. out of the car. Once outside the car, Moore and Bunch assaulted M.K., grabbing her by the hair and forcing their penises into her mouth; one would orally rape her while the other forced her head down. This was repeated two or three times, at gunpoint.
Moore and Bunch then directed M.K. to the trunk of her car. At this point, another man, Jamar Callier, exited the black car and went through M.K.’s belongings in the trunk. M.K. was told to pull her pants down and turn around. M.K. resisted, and in an attempt to avoid any further violence, told the attackers she was pregnant (she was not, in fact, pregnant). But they showed no mercy; Moore and Bunch pushed her against the car, and at least one of them anally raped her.
After the anal rape, Bunch threw M.K. to the ground, and he and Moore proceeded to vaginally and orally rape her. While one raped her vaginally, the other would force his penis into her mouth, and they would then switch places. Both were armed during the rapes.
The attack finally ended when Callier pushed Bunch off M.K. Bunch said that he wanted to kill M.K., but Callier would not let him, telling Bunch that he could not kill a pregnant woman. Moore put his gun into M.K.’s mouth and told her, “Since you were so good, I won’t kill you.” Moore warned her that they knew who she was; he threatened to harm her and her family if she told anyone what had happened.
Hysterical, M.K. got back into her car and drove immediately to the home of a relative of her boyfriend, where she had been attending a cookout before leaving to go to work. She arrived back at the party, got out of her car, and ran through the yard, screaming for help. When people came to her aid, she immediately yelled out the license-plate number she had memorized. Based on the license-plate number, police were eventually able to arrest all four people involved in the attack on M.K.
In her testimony at trial, M.K. described the effect of the attack on her life: “[T]hey killed a part of me. They killed a part of my [soul] that I can never get back.”
Bunch was originally sentenced to 105 years in prison and was re-sentenced to 50 years.
Info on Moore’s case from legallyspeakingohio.com
Moore was originally sentenced by Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Scott Krichbaum to 141 years in prison. At that first sentencing hearing, Judge Krichbaum stated that Moore “[could not] be rehabilitated, that it would be a waste of time and money and common sense to even give it a try,” adding that he wanted to make sure Moore never got out of the penitentiary. The Seventh District Court of Appeals reversed that 141 year sentence.
At a third mandated re-sentencing (the second was reversed because of improper judicial fact-finding) Judge Krichbaum imposed an aggregate sentence of 112 years. With that sentence, Moore would have been eligible for judicial release at age 92. The judge commented that “[I]t is the intention of this court that you should never be released from the penitentiary.” That sentenced was upheld by the Seventh District, and Moore appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Moore’s 112 year sentence was struck down by the Supreme Court of Ohio on December 22, 2016, mostly on the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Florida 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which banned a sentence of life without parole for juvenile non-homicide offenders. In State v. Moore, 2016-Ohio-8288, a 4-3 decision written by Justice Pfeifer, the court held that an aggregate term-of-years prison sentence imposed on a juvenile non-homicide offender that exceeds the offender’s life expectancy amounted to a de facto life sentence, and thus runs afoul of Graham, and that Moore had to be given some meaningful opportunity for release. Moore’s sentence was vacated, and the case was sent back to the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas for re-sentencing.
Sources about Bunch and Moore
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association released this statement.
We are opposed to the bill as currently written and hopeful that we can reach a compromise. Providing a meaningful opportunity for parole for most youthful offenders is constitutionally necessary. But the bill goes way beyond that. It will result in significant sentence reductions for offenders who have committed multiple very serious crimes like rape and murder. No matter how many rapes an offender commits they could be released after 18 years. No matter how many murders a person commits they could never be sentenced to life without parole – not even someone like TJ Lane. The bill prioritizes getting these offenders out of prison as early as possible and does so at the expense of public safety, victim rights, and what justice demands.
How SB 256 is harmful
SB 256 puts Ohioans in danger
SB 256 would allow for the early release of multiple dangerous felons, including those responsible for crimes such as rape and aggravated murder. As explained in our Dangerous Early Releases page, many criminals who are released early go on to commit more crimes in society. And as explained in our Dangerous Early Release page and in Is Life Without Parole For Juveniles Cruel And Unusual? offenders who are still dangerous often lie and manipulate parole boards into freeing them. Additionally, Ohio is having a hard time monitoring paroled felons. Here is some information on the state’s problem.
The Adult Parole Authority oversees more than 27,000 felons who have been released from Ohio prisons.
The creation of the working group comes after the governor ordered an internal investigation into the authority’s supervision of Raymond Walters, a convicted robber who was released on Aug. 10 on three years of post-release control.
On Aug. 26, authorities say, Walters stabbed his father repeatedly in a pickup truck after discovering he was being taken to a nearby hospital for mental-health treatment, then drove the truck into a tree. When police responded to the crash, Walters reportedly got behind the wheel of one of their cruisers and drove away, reaching speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour before causing a three-vehicle crash that killed two 6-year-old girls and injured 10 others.
According to WHIO-TV, Walters faces two counts of murder, as well as 20 additional charges that include involuntary manslaughter, aggravated vehicular homicide, felonious assault, aggravated vehicular assault, robbery, failure to comply with the order/signal of a police officer, vehicular assault, grand theft of a motor vehicle, and vandalism.
The tragic murder of Reagan Tokes exposed a series of flaws in Ohio’s criminal justice system. Among them were tracking parolees. The man convicted of killing her was wearing a GPS ankle monitor but no one was tracking where he was until after he robbed six people and killed Tokes.
Governor Mike DeWine’s Working Group on Post-Release Control met Friday morning to continue working on how to reform what happens to inmates after they’re released from prison…
Tokes’ death also exposed the heavy caseload for parole officers. State officials want to hire more parole officers so each one can devote more time to working with people recently released.
Ohio’s parole system is broken: Paroled criminals who are supposed to be monitored are committing violent crimes against Ohioans. Releasing more violent criminals will only exacerbate the state’s terrible problem. Do Ohioans want to worry about more dangerous and poorly monitored criminals?
SB 256 would harm victims
Victims would be forced to endure traumatizing parole hearings 18-30 years after the life altering crimes. They would have to re-live the crimes and worry about the criminals being released.
SBH 256 would deny justice
For justice to be done, the punishment must be proportionate to the crimes committed. And the maximum punishments allowed by SB 256 are not proportionate to some crimes. In fact, the punishments allowed are extremely lenient for some offenses. For example, one who rapes, tortures, and murders two children could be released in 25 years, serving 12.5 years per victim. A criminal who rapes, tortures, mutilates, disfigures, and attempts to murder multiple people could be released in 18 years. One who murders 60 people could be released in 30 years, spending six months in prison for each victim killed.
Response to Cleveland.com op-ed
Cleveland.com published a column by John C. Rush titled Ohio bill would prevent the cruel practice of sentencing juveniles to life with no parole: John C. Rush. In it, Mr Rush promotes SB 256.
“I believe strongly that no child should be locked away based on the worst moment of their young lives without regard for their potential to rehabilitate and change. It goes against everything we know about human development, and flies in the face of everything we teach about forgiveness. I also believe this because my company is founded in the belief that rehabilitation is possible.” Juveniles are not given LWOP for the “worst moments in their lives.” They are given LWOP for their own criminal choices–those crimes are the worst moments in the victims’ lives, including the direct victims who were murdered and the victims’ family members, who have to live with the pain of what was done. Juvenile criminals were not forced to commit these crimes. They did not commit them because they were having a hard time. Nor did they experience the worst moments in their lives. They chose to commit these crimes for their own benefit and enjoyment. In fact, rather than being painful, many of these crimes were thrill killings done for the purpose of having fun. Mr. Rush further writes that rehabilitation is possible for juvenile criminals. Yes, most juvenile criminals, as well as most adult criminals, can be rehabilitated. But some criminals, including those under 18, cannot be and will always pose a danger to society. To say that all juvenile murderers can be rehabilitated is not factual.
“My employees are not unique, and research supports what many of us parents know from personal experience – the adolescent brain does not fully mature until the mid-to-late 20s. Kids are less capable than adults in long-term planning, regulating emotion, impulse control, and the evaluation of risk and reward. Additionally, because the adolescent brain is still developing, children possess a unique capacity for change. The majority of children who commit crimes outgrow their delinquent behavior, which means long prison sentences without parole eligibility prematurely gives up on many young people who would likely grow to be contributing members of society.” The issue of culpability is a tough one, and we don’t have time to fully address it here. Please read our page on Research and The Brain to learn more. One of our volunteers argues that juveniles are not categorically less culpable than adults in Are Juveniles Categorically Less Culpable?. In short, yes, adolescents are generally less capable when it comes to impulse, planning, and so on. But adolescents are not a monolithic group. They are all different. Some adolescents differ from their peers in these regards. Many juvenile criminals, in fact, are very capable when it comes to long term planning, the evaluation of risk, and so on. Take the case of David Biro in Illinois. He decided he wanted to murder people to have fun. He went on to do just that. He broke into the home of Nancy and Richard Langert and waited for them to come home. When they arrived, he fatally shot Richard in the head. He then shot Nancy, who was pregnant and was begging him not to kill her baby. Rather than being impulsive, Biro planned the murders out for weeks. He did not fail to evaluate risks and rewards–he was very well aware of what he was doing and committed the murders because of the risks, which he found entertaining. Additionally, not all juveniles have the capacity to change and outgrow delinquent behavior. Take the example of Anthony Pardon, from Ohio. He had a long violent history, which included raping an infant and an eight-year-old girl. When he was 16 he raped a woman, kidnapped her, and attempted to drown her in a creek and murder her. He spent 25 years in prison for the crime. After being released, he committed forgery and was sent to prison for another nine years. He was released in his mid 50s. Rather than having grown out of his delinquent behavior, he continued engaging in violent crimes well into middle age. He went on to rape, torture, and murder a young woman. Pardon did not continue his dangerous behavior because he was not rehabilitated. It is more likely that, like some other offenders, he was never a good candidate for rehabilitation and would always have posed some risk to society no matter what was done for him. Again, juveniles are not all the same. Most juvenile offenders outgrow their delinquent behavior. But the behavior of some juveniles does not reflect youthfulness, immaturity, or under developed brains. It reflects depravity and cruelty.
Mr. Rush repeatedly describes juvenile murderers as “children.” This is misleading and manipulative as described here. He writes: “I’m not saying that children shouldn’t be held accountable. They absolutely should. But they should be treated like the children that they are and given the opportunity to show they can change and mature.” What does Mr. Rush mean by treating juvenile murderers like children? Doing so would take away responsibility from those who choose to commit highly aggravated crimes. Furthermore, he writes that abolishing JLWOP will allow juveniles to show that they can grow and mature. But as explained above, not all juvenile crimes reflect youthful immaturity that can be grown out of. Some juvenile crimes are highly mature in the sense that the criminals plan them out and execute their goals efficiently. Above, I gave the example of David Biro. Take another example, that of Christopher Simmons. He was 17 when he decided he “wanted to murder someone.” He created an elaborate plan that included invading a home, restraining the victim, and murdering them. He chose Shirley Crook. He broke into her house, restrained her, and kidnapped her. He took her to a park. There, he threw her into a river where she drowned. It is a mistake to treat crimes like this as youthful transgressions that result from immaturity and underdevelopment. The murder of Shirley Crook was committed in a highly mature and planned-out way. Simmons chose a goal and elaborately planned it. He executed that plan. And he did so successfully, achieving what he wanted.
One of our volunteers wrote a response to Mr. Rush’s op-ed. It was published by Cleveland.com.
Life without parole is appropriate for some juvenile criminals
In his July 19 op-ed, “End life sentences with no parole for juveniles,“ John C. Rush argues in favor of Senate Bill 256, which would ban life without parole for juveniles. He writes that, “no child should be locked away based on the worst moment of their young lives without regard for their potential to rehabilitate and change.” This statement is not accurate. Many juvenile criminals are not experiencing the “worst moment of their young lives” when they commit crimes. They choose to commit those crimes for their own benefit.
Some of them experience some of the best moments of their lives, as they enjoy committing the crimes. It is also wrong to say that all juvenile criminals are able to be rehabilitated. Yes, most are. But some will always pose a danger to society.
John Rush also writes that juveniles are generally less capable than adults when it comes to impulse, planning and so on. But not all juveniles are the same. Some juveniles commit highly planned-out, mature crimes. Even if a crime is impulsive, the criminal was still aware of what they were doing. Some criminals, including those under 18, will always pose a danger. Life without parole should be an option.
What You Can Do
Write to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to do more. Victims are invited to submit written or oral testimony.
Memorials for Ohio victims.
The Heritage Foundation’s report Adult Time for Adult Crime.
A moral argument for JLWOP is made here:
The dangers of early release are explained here:
One of our volunteers argues against the diminished culpability narrative here:
Contact email@example.com for more.