House Criminal Justice Committee Oral Testimony

Blow is a transcript of the oral testimony our Ohio coordinator gave regarding SB 256 before the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee on December 8, 2020.

Video of the testimony can be viewed here. She starts at 1:27:56. NOVJM friend and legal expert Cully Stimson starts at 25:35. And Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys executive director Lou Tobin begins his opposition testimony at 1:46:21.

Please note that this is not a perfect transcript. I took out pauses and so on.

Transcript

Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to provide opposition testimony regarding SB 256. I come before you as the Ohio coordinator for the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers or NOVJM for short and as a concerned Ohio citizen. 256 would prohibit juveniles from getting life without parole or LWOP sentences regardless of the crimes they commit. NOVJM opposes this bill because it would deny justice, traumatize victims, and endanger society.

We oppose over-sentencing offenders to terms that are disproportionate to their crimes and we recognize that most juvenile offenders have the capacity for reform. However, there are some juvenile crimes that may warrant LWOP. 

Now, advocates of the bill argue that no juvenile criminal, no matter what, should ever get an LWOP sentence. As the victims of these criminals, we disagree. There are some juvenile crimes that may warrant such a sentence. And I’m gonna tell you some stories to illustrate this point.

The first story I will tell you is that of Shavanna McCann. Shavanna was five years old and she lived in a housing project in Chicago. And one day, she met a man named Johnny Freeman. He was three months away from his 18th birthday. Freeman enticed Shavanna with candy and he lured her to a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of the project. And there, he raped her. She was five-years-old. And he raped her. Think about the horrors of that. Next, Freeman tried to throw Shavanna out the 14th story window to kill her. But Shavanna was a brave little girl. And she hung on to the 14th story window ledge with her fingertips. And she screamed for her mother. But she didn’t have a chance. She was stuck between a 14 story drop and a rapist who wanted to murder her. The advocates of the bill talk a lot about second chances. Shavanna and victims like her never had a first chance. Freeman peeled Shavanna’s fingers off the ledge, and he threw her to her death 14 stories below. 

Another story that I would like to share is that of Antonio Santiago. He was one-years-old. One day, he and his mother Sherry were strolling home from the post office. They were attacked by two armed robbers, ages 15 and 17.  The 17-year-old, De Marquise Elkins, pointed a gun at them and demanded money. But Sherry had none to give him. So he threatened to kill her baby. And just like how Shavanna begged for her life, Sherry begged for her baby’s life. “Please, don’t kill my baby.” But this 17-year-old didn’t listen. He first shot Sherry in the leg. And then he went over to Baby Antonio. He pointed the gun at his forehead, in between the eyes, and he pulled the trigger. And he shot the baby at close range and murdered him execution-style. A one-year-old baby. 

Now, I could stand here for hours and tell you many more of these kinds of stories of highly aggravated juvenile crimes. The point is that there are some juvenile crimes for which LWOP is not disproportionate. These crimes are not mistakes, as the advocates of the bill call them. These are not children who are committing them. These are not immature, reckless, dumb acts made due to under-developed brains. These are evil crimes committed by offenders who knew exactly what they were doing. The idea that a 17-year-old doesn’t fully understand the wrongfulness of murdering a baby is asinine. And these crimes are not less egregious because they were committed one or more days before the killers’ magical 18th birthdays. And the suffering and terror inflicted on victims like Shavanna and Antonio does not magically diminish because the killer is under 18.  And to protect society from criminals like these and to protect the victims from traumatizing parole hearings is not cruel and unusual punishment. 

This bill would allow murderers to get out after 25 years or 30 years if they kill two people. This part of the bill could result in the release of several very depraved murders in Ohio who currently have either LWOP sentences or functional LWOP. Some of the murderers who could be released include:

Jacob LaRosa, who attempted to rape a 94-year-old woman and then beat her to death with a heavy metal flashlight.

Devonere Simmonds, who murdered two people and attempted to murder two others during a crime spree. 

Gavon Ramsay, who invaded a 98-year-old woman’s home, strangled her to death, and then undressed and sexually abused her corpse. Ramsay had long been fantasizing about raping and killing people. 

It could also release Jordyn Wade. Jordyn Wade was an active participant in the murders of four people and the attempted murder of one other during a home invasion robbery. He and his adult accomplice Robert Adams invaded the home, took the residents hostage, robbed them, and then forced them all into the basement. Once they were in the basement, Adams asked Wade, “should I off them,” meaning “should I kill them.” Talking about the victims.  Wade said, “yes.” And then Adams started shooting them all. He killed four of them and one 16-year-old girl managed to survive by playing dead, even though she was shot in the head. And this 16-year-old survivor, she wrote in a letter to the court that “Jordyn Wade permanently destroyed my mind, heart, and soul. I will always have a deep deep hatred for Jordyn Wade. It feels great for his life to be taken away the way he took my sister and my father’s life.” And if this bill passes, that surviving victim, who was identified as T.N., she would have to be re-traumatized at parole hearings over and over again. She watched as these men shot and killed her sister, her father, and several others. The man shot her in the head. And she would have to constantly relive that. 

Non-homicide offenders would be able to be released after 18 years regardless of the nature of their crimes or the number of people they harmed. You could destroy someone’s life by inflicting significant injuries that disfigure or disable or incapacitate them and still get out after a mere 18 years. A couple years ago, Ohio passed a bill called Judy’s Law. Judy was a woman who was set on fire by her boyfriend. She was doused with gasoline and set on fire. And she survived for two years. But during the time between her death and the attack, she was confined to a hospital bed, unable to breathe on her own, she was horribly disfigured, her face was burned off, her fingers were burned off, her ears were burned off, and she basically, her life was taken away. Under this bill, you could do something like that to a person, to a child, and you would then have a chance to get out after 18 years. And 18 years for completely destroying someone’s life is not a proportionate punishment. 

This part of the bill could release two men, Brandon Moore, from the State v. Moore case and Chaz Bunch. Back in 2001, these two men kidnapped and brutally gang-raped a young woman in Youngstown. Moore stuck a gun in her mouth and threatened to kill her, should she tell anyone about it. 

We ask that you honestly consider the possibility of these offenders that I listed being released. Would you trust them? Would you invite them to your home to come work for you or live with you? The answer should be no. Because you’ve seen what they’re capable of. These rapists and killers have far too great a capacity for violence and evil for us to believe they are going to magically transform into upstanding citizens. 

The bill is based on the idea that every single juvenile criminal is capable of reform. But that is just not true. There are some criminals who will always pose a danger. And some of them have been sentenced for crimes committed before their 18th birthdays. And we ask that if you don’t want to see these rapists and killers released that you not vote to make that a possibility. 

And actually, I want to say before I conclude that advocates argue that, well, it’s not really dangerous because in order to be released the offenders would have to go in front of parole boards and if they were still dangerous the parole boards just wouldn’t release them. This is not accurate. Parole boards release dangerous criminals all the time. On our website, teenkillers.org, we document almost 100 dangerous early releases. Many of those cases involve parole boards releasing murderers who murder again. And those are just the cases that we have managed to document.

There’s one example in California where a 15-year-old murdered a baby. He was paroled after 17 years and two months after being paroled he murdered both his parents. There’s the recent Travis Lewis case from Arkansas. Lewis, back in the 90s when he was 16 he murdered two people. He was paroled after 23 years and after he was paroled he murdered another woman in the same house as the first two murders. There’s Donald Sherman from Nevada. When he was 17 he murdered a store clerk during a robbery. He was paroled. After he was paroled, he murdered his estranged girlfriend’s father.  There’s Dwain Little from Oregon. When he was 15 he raped and murdered another 15-year-old. He was paroled and after he was paroled he raped and attempted to murder another woman. There’s Kenneth McDuff. This is not a juvenile killer case but I think it makes the same point. When McDuff was 20, he committed a rape and triple murder. He was paroled after 23 years and after he was paroled he raped and murdered seven women. He was a serial killer. And one last example I’ll bring up is another serial killer by the name of Arthur Shawcross.  He first raped and murdered two children. He was paroled after 15 years and after he was paroled he raped and murdered 12 women. So the idea that parole boards will somehow always get this right and that they’ll never release a dangerous person, that’s not accurate. This bill opens the door to more of these kinds of dangerous early releases. And what we’re asking is that you put the safety of Ohio citizens above the freedom of rapists and murderers. 

And I’ll say again that the killers and rapists, well, actually Moore is getting out potentially when he’s in his 50s. But the killers I listed, those are just some of the killers in Ohio doing LWOP or functional LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles. I think the judges got those cases right. Those were not dumb reckless mistakes made by teens who had prior trauma or whatever. These were evil crimes. Often they were planned out. And in one case, in the Jordyn Wade case, he was an active participant in the murders of four people. I think that most of the killers I listed, had they been 18 or older, I don’t think anyone in this room would oppose giving them life without parole. And we ask you to remember that because they had not reached their 18th birthdays, that does not make their crimes less egregious. And that does not make the suffering inflicted on the victims less egregious. 


I have been an NOVJM volunteer for quite a while. I have counseled victims who have gone through parole and resentencing hearings, and it is very painful. Victims, they often, unsurprisingly, when a family member is brutally murdered, they often suffer conditions like PTSD and anxiety and these conditions flare up whenever there is a parole hearing and you have to continuously relive the crime. We have many stories of victims, the murder happens and they suffer these conditions, but then afterwards they kind of begin to heal. But then a parole hearing comes up after 20, 25 years and all that progress is undone. And it’s just like the day of the murder. All of the PTSD, the anxiety comes right back. And even, I have counseled victims who have gone through parole and resentencing hearings after 25 or 30 years and it is still very painful. So I just want to make sure that it is understood that having parole eligibility at 25 or 30 years as this bill does, does not diminish the pain victims would experience.

I’ll conclude by saying that the advocates of the bill argue that you should put yourselves in the positions of the juvenile criminals, that is the rapists, murderers. And what we’re asking is that you put yourselves in the positions of the victims. The victims didn’t choose to be in their positions. The offenders did. And we ask that you have mercy and compassion for the victims and not condemn them to lifetimes of agonizing parole hearings. And we ask that you have mercy and compassion for the potential victims should these rapists and killers get out and re-offend, which happens very often. And with that I will conclude. Thank you for allowing me to testify and I am happy to answer questions. 

Representative Butler. Thank you very much for your testimony. I wanted to just kind of revisit some of the prior testimony. I think you heard some of it. But under the bill, someone who rapes a five year old or a 10 year old when they’re one day shy of their 18th birthday would then at 34 years old go through a parole hearing and then the victims of the crimes committed would have to go through that and fear even potentially receiving threatening communications from within jail which certainly happens as well. And they have to then, at that young age where the perpetrators only 34 almost 35-years-old have to go through that. At that early stage and so I guess having to go through that vs– and I’m not asking you to be as familiar as the prior witness with what was passed out of this House in the 131st General Assembly five years ago-but it sounds like from the prior testimony that if we just add the triple homicide exception to this bill or to the compromise, the triple homicide exception that the Senate if it was five years ago would pass it because, according to testimony we just heard that was the only reason they didn’t pass the House version five years ago and just for your information that sets it at 35 years for somebody at least as a compromise, 35 years instead of 18 for those brutal rapes that happened so that the victim doesn’t have to relieve that. I guess, would that improve this bill, not having seen it, but to make it 35 years with a triple homicide exception?

NOVJM: Representative Butter, yes I think that would improve this bill.  And I think that we have to remember when we’re talking about non-homicides, oftentimes there really is no difference between a non-homicide offender and a homicide offender. While there may be, obviously there’s a difference between the homicide offense vs the non-homicide offense, I don’t think that the same can always be said about offenders. So let’s say that in one case you have a man who rapes and stabs a woman. And he succeeds in killing her. In the other case you have a man who rapes and stabs a woman but at the last minute a good Samaritan comes by and saves her. So he doesn’t succeed in killing her. So in these cases, there is a difference between the crimes. In one case you have a murder and in the other case you have an attempted murder. But there really is no difference between the offenders. The only difference between the crimes is that a good Samaritan came by in one of them. And that has nothing to do with the offenders. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the attempted murderer is a better guy because a good Samaritan came by. Had the good Samaritan not come by he would have killed the woman. So I think we have to remember that. And I also ask that you remember that, when you look at people like Chaz Bunch and Brandon Moore from State vs. Moore, the gang rapists, a lot of the times what happens when rapists or non-homicide offenders get out and re-offend is that they kill their victims. You guys are hearing… you might consider passing a bill called the Reagan Tokes Act. In that case, a career sex offender raped a pregnant woman in front of her child and the victim told police and he went to prison for six years. After he got out, he kidnapped and raped another girl, Reagan, only this time he decided that he had to kill her. Because the last victim he raped told the police. And that got him sent to prison. And in order to prevent Reagan from telling police and getting him sent back to prison, he killed her. So when you look at someone like Chaz Bunch or Brandon Moore, they stuck the gun in the victim’s mouth and threatened to kill her. And actually, Bunch I believe wanted to kill her. But they let her go. So, if those men get out and rape again, which is very likely, they will not let that victim live.

And I will also say on that note that victims that I’ve talked to, many of them do face fears of retaliation. In one case, there’s one woman who provided written testimony from Arkansas. Her 12-year-old sister and her mother were murdered during a robbery. The mother survived, she was shot but survived. And the 12-year-old sister was murdered. And Arkansas has changed their laws so now that killer is eligible for parole after 30 years and not too long from now he will have a parole hearing. They are terrified of the possibility of this killer getting out and then retaliating against the mother who witnessed the crime and testified against him. And I have spoken to many other victims who also are terrified of this possibility as well.  So I would ask that you please be cognizant of that fact. That there is the potential of re–offending and the potential of retaliation against witnesses. Thank you very much for the question.