This entry is written by an NOVJM volunteer. It will express her positions, not the position of NOVJM as an organization. In this article, our volunteer explains why juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) is an appropriate sentence in some cases and should not be abolished.
Three Reasons Not To End JLWOP
Advocates of ending JLWOP for criminals under 18 often claim that such sentences are “cruel and unusual” and, as described in other posts, use manipulative language and even misrepresent and lie about specific cases (http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/teen-killers-are-not-children/) (http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/juvenile-lifers/specific-cases/). Even when not outright distorting or lying about the facts in these cases, anti-JLWOP advocates seldom explain or acknowledge the brutal details.
Unfortunately, there are juveniles who commit unspeakably horrendous and evil crimes, not because of their youthful and immature brains or life problems, but because they are depraved people. They understand the harm their crimes cause, but choose to commit them anyways for their own benefit or enjoyment. Rather than reforming with age, such offenders will always pose a threat to others. Most juveniles who commit crimes don’t deserve to be sent to prison for life without having a chance to be released. The same is true with most adult offenders. JLWOP is a rare sentence reserved for criminals who act with such a disregard for others’ rights that they forfeit their own right to live in society. There are three main reasons why I believe JLWOP should not be abolished:
1. JLWOP keeps society safe from dangerous criminals.
2. LWOP (life without parole) is a just punishment and is not disproportionate to some crimes committed by juveniles.
3. A sentence of LWOP spares surviving victims of juvenile criminals (such as family members of murder victims) the trauma of parole hearings (along with re-sentencing hearings if the offenders are to be re-sentenced).
- Giving All Juvenile Offenders A Chance To Be Released Is Dangerous
There are some people in this world who can justifiably be described as “evil.” They commit absolutely unconscionable crimes, knowing full well how terrible those crimes are. They have no concern for the emotional and physical pain they cause or for the lives they take. They only care about themselves and believe that it is acceptable to commit these crimes for their own benefit, gain, or enjoyment. They can not be rehabilitated or changed and will always pose some level of danger to society. Some of these offenders were sentenced for crimes that they committed when they were under 18 years of age.
Many of these dangerous offenders are psychopaths. Psychopathy is a condition characterized by a variety of harmful personality traits. Psychopaths are unable to feel empathy for anyone, even their own children. They feel no remorse for their actions no matter the impact on others. They are self-centered, manipulative, and shallow. Though they make up a small percentage of the general population, they commit a disproportionately large share of serious violent crimes. To be considered a psychopath, one must score 30 out of 40 on the Psychopathy Checklist—revised (PCL-R). The average score in the general population is five. Even if an offender does not meet the 30 point criteria they may still have many psychopathic traits. There is currently no cure for psychopathy. In fact, attempts to teach psychopaths empathy and compassion only make them more dangerous as they learn how to manipulate people, fake emotions, and use people’s emotions against them. Though psychopathic criminals, like other criminals, do tend to offend less as they age, they never lose their antisocial personality traits.
Psychopaths are especially manipulative and can pretend to be reformed when they are still dangerous. Parole boards and other authorities are easily manipulated by them. In fact, psychopaths are 2.5 times more likely to be granted conditional release than non psychopaths due to their skills at manipulating.
Many offenders who were given “second chances” after committing crimes as juveniles, such as receiving early release from prison, have gone on to commit additional crimes (see more here: http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/dangerous-early-release/). If JLWOP is ended completely and all juvenile offenders are given the chance to be released, many such offenders will be released and will go on to commit crimes in society. As explained in our page on dangerous early releases, this has already happened. Examine any of the criminal cases described below. Would you feel safe knowing that these offenders were out and about? Would you want to walk by them on the street? Would you want any of them to be your neighbor? Would you want them to drive by your children as they walk home from school? Perhaps you or I won’t come into contact with them. But if these killers are released someone else will. And one should not force someone else to live among these perpetrators unless they would be willing to do so themselves.
2. Ending JLWOP Denies Justice For Victims And Society
In order for justice to be severed, the punishment given to the offender must be proportionate to the crime. In some cases, a sentence that allows for release from prison is not proportionate and does not give victims justice. Victims of juvenile criminals have no less of a right to justice than victims of adult criminals. The suffering experienced by victims and their families isn’t magically diminished when the offender is under 18. Furthermore, it is not the fault of the victims that the criminals who harmed them did so before their 18th birthdays. For them to be denied justice and, as explained below, put through severe emotional pain and trauma, because of a factor that they had no control over is unacceptable.
Below are some examples of crimes committed by juveniles that illustrate the point. Some offenders listed did receive LWOP sentences. Others may be released one day or have already been released. This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more crimes committed by juveniles with the same level of barbarity. These are just some examples of crimes committed by offenders whom anti-JLWOP activists would like to be released into society.
The incarceration status’s of the offenders were found on the websites of state corrections departments.
Murder of the Bojorquez family
On August 4, 2000, Lucila Bojorquez, 36, and her two children, six-year-old son Brandon Esquer and seven-year-old daughter Jenny Bojorquez got in their car in an apartment complex parking lot in Tuscon, Arizona, to drive home. Ralph David Cruz Jr., 16, approached the family and pointed a Glock .40 caliber handgun at them and demanded that Lucila give him their car. When she refused he shot her three times, once in the head and twice in the chest. He pulled Lucila’s dead body out of the car and drove off with it, running over the dead mother. Cruz later murdered the two children by shooting them in their heads. Jenny was also shot in the arms and chest. Additionally, part of her hand was blown off indicating that she tried to shield herself. Cruz left the dead children’s’ bodies at an overlook at West Gate’s Pass in the Tucson Mountains.
Murder of Betty Marie Ilgenfritz Bradford
On February 1, 1975, in York, Pennsylvania, Betty, 26, tried to go to a grocery store to buy milk for her two-year-old daughter. She never came home. Warner Batty Jr., 15, and Donald Riviera, 18, kidnapped the mother and took her to into a vacant home. The kidnappers viciously gang-raped her. They beat and suffocated her and placed her under a mattress. They set the mattress and the young woman on fire, with Batty later acknowledging that he struck the first match. Betty was still alive when she was set on fire and burned alive.
Murder of Katherine Cardenas
In the early morning hours of September 5, 2009, in Laredo, Texas, Jose “Lalo” Arredondo, 16, kidnapped two-year-old Katherine Cardenas from her home after becoming enraged when the girl’s mother turned down his advances for sex. He took the child to a property behind a shed and raped her and beat and strangled her to death.
Murder of Eve Carson
In the early morning hours of March 5, 2008, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 22-year-old UNC student body president Eve Marie Carson was abducted at gunpoint by Demario Atwater, 21, and Laurence Lovette, 17. The kidnappers drove her to several ATMs and forced her to withdraw money. Lovette later told an acquaintance that Atwater “was fiddling with her clothes and touching her in certain parts of her body.” Eve tried to reason with her captors, telling them that they did not have to commit these crimes. She also begged for her life. But the kidnappers showed no mercy. They chose to murder her to prevent her from reporting the crimes they had committed against her. When Eve realized that Atwater and Lovette were about to kill her she tried again to reason with them, asking them to “pray with me.”
Atwater and Lovette shot Eve four times with a .25 caliber handgun. The bullets pierced her right shoulder, right upper arm, right buttock, and right cheek, but didn’t kill her. The assailants then fired the fifth and fatal shot with a sawed-off shot gun. This shot went through Eve’s right hand and into her right temple and brain and killed her. A forensic psychologist and criminal profiler stated that the manner in which Eve was shot showed a “complete lack of regard for another person.”
Murder of Shirley Crook
Christopher Simmons, 17, decided he “wanted to murder someone.” He found younger conspirators and formed a plan to burglarize a house, tie up the victim, and murder her. He even bragged to the younger conspirators that they would “get away with it because they were minors.” On the night of September 9, 1993, Simmons and Charles Benjamin, 15, broke into the Jefferson County, Missouri home of Shirley Crook, 46. He used duct tape to bind and gag the her and cover her eyes. He and his accomplice then stole her car and drove her to the Castlewood State Park in St. Louis County. Shirley, who had managed to free her hands and uncover part of her face, was again restrained. The killers used a belt, a purse strap, and electric wire to restrain her hands and feet, covered her head with a towel, and walked her to a railroad trestle that ran above the Meramec River. The killers tied her hands and feet with the electric wire in a hog-tie fashion, wrapped duct tape around her entire face, and threw her into the river. Shirley drowned.
Murder of Raechale Elton
On February 15, 2006, 17-and-a-half-year-old Robert Houston raped and murdered Raechale Elton in Clearfield, Utah. Raechale, 22, worked at the group home for juvenile sex offenders that Houston resided in. Houston coerced Raechale into giving him a ride to an independent living home where no other staff or residents were present. There, he attacked her with a knife and forced her to undress. Houston raped the young woman at knife-point as she begged him not to. He then slit her throat, tried to rip out her trachea, and stabbed her multiple times. According to Houston, he slaughtered Raechale because she would not stop screaming.
Murder of Jason Foreman
Michael Woodmansee, of Rhode Island, murdered five-year-old Jason Foreman in 1975. Woodmansee, 16, kidnapped the boy and stabbed him to death. He cleaned and shellacked Jason’s bones and stored them on his dresser. Woodmansee also admitted in a journal that he ate some of Jason’s flesh. He also recorded other gruesome details in his journal. The content was so graphic that the court ordered it to be sealed. Woodmansee was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty and was released after 28 years in 2011. He was committed to the Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston.
Murder of the Godt family
In 1989, in Middletown, Delaware, Donald Torres, 14, murdered Harry and Jennifer Godt and their two children, four-year-old Jon and one -and-a-half-year-old Jennifer. Torres, who had befriended the Godt family, became angry when Harry scolded him for teaching Jon to play with matches.
Around midnight on February 24, Torres broke into the family’s home and spread kerosene over the kitchen floor and stairway leading to the bedrooms. He then ignited the kerosene with a lighter and some newspaper. He went outside and watched as the fire spread. He saw Harry run out of the house screaming and then re-enter to save his family. Torres later admitted that he knew the family was in the home when he set it ablaze. All four members of the family were killed.
Murder of Shimika Hicks
On April 20, 1987, 10-year-old Shimika Hicks of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was raped and murdered by 17-year-old Tommy Edward Richards. Richards, who was neighbors with Shimika, violently raped the girl and beat and suffocated her. He concealed her body in trash bags and dumped her in a vacant lot. Richards is currently incarcerated at the Lakeland Correctional Facility.
Murder of Vicki Larson
On July 12, 1979, 10-year-old Victoria Joelle “Vicki” Larson was raped and murdered by 15-year-old Scott Darnell in Andover, Illinois. As Vicki was walking home from her brother’s Little League game, Darnell lured her into a cornfield. She must have tried to run away when she saw the stakes and leather straps near the shallow grave Darnell had created three days prior. Darnell raped the girl and strangled her from behind with a bandanna. He then buried her in the grave.
Murder of Shavanna McCann
On June 10, 1985, Johnny Freeman, who was three months away from his 18th birthday, enticed five-year-old Shavanna with candy and lured her to a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of the Henry Horner Homes in Chicago. There, Freeman brutally raped the child. After raping the five-year-old, the assailant shoved her out the window. Shavanna managed to hold on to the edge of the window and screamed for her mother. Freeman shoved her a second time. This time, Shavanna wasn’t able to hold on to anything. The girl fell 14 stories and landed on the ground below.
Murder of Sandra Nestle
On June 21, 1983, 32-year-old Sandra was spotted by 17-year-old Brian Granger while she was out jogging. Granger, who was four months away from turning 18, followed her on a bike. He attacked the mother of three in an isolated area in Jasper Township, Michigan, choked her unconscious, stripped her of her clothing, and raped her. Granger left Sandra face-down in a partially filled drainage ditch, covered her with vegetation, and left. Sandra died of drowning.
Murder of Elizabeth Olsen
On December 2, 1996, Anthony Givens, 17, invaded 44-year-old Elizabeth “Liza” Olsen’s home in New Buffalo, Michigan. Givens broke in through a window and found Liza asleep in her bedroom. Liza awoke and was brutally attacked by the burglar. DNA evidence established that she was raped by Givens. Givens also struck her three times over the head with a T.V. Liza’s partner Joy came home during the robbery and was also attacked by Givens. Givens hit her, wrestled her into the back bedroom and forced her to lie on the floor. He hit Joy on the head with the T.V., fracturing her skull, stole some more items, and left. Joy survived. Liza did not.
Murder of Minnie Peaples
On October 19, 1967, 16-year-old Bobby Gene Griffin and three others broke into the Benton Harbor, Michigan, home of 84-year-old Minnie Peaples with the intent to rob her. The plan, which Griffin came up with, was to gain entry to her home by faking distress. Griffin knocked on her door and told her that his brother had been beaten up and that he needed to call the police. Minnie refused to let him enter but offered to call the police for him. Griffin then struck her to the floor and forced his way inside. The three other attackers ran away and returned a short while later to find Griffin beating Minnie on the floor. While the other home invaders ransacked the home Griffin continued to beat the old woman, stripped her naked, and sexually assaulted her. The thugs fled, leaving Minnie alive but bleeding profusely. She later bled to death.
Griffin was sentenced to LWOP but was later re-sentenced to 40-60 years in prison. He was released in 2018. Peaples’s grandchildren expressed disappointment with the judge’s decision to release the rapist and murderer.
Murder of Jessica Ridgeway
On October 5, 2012, 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was abducted by Austin Sigg while walking home from school in Westminster, Colorado. Sigg, 17, grabbed the girl as she walked by and pulled her into his car. He bound her arms and legs with zip ties and took her to his residence. Sigg carried Jessica to his bedroom. He forced her to change into a shirt and pair of shorts he set out in the bathroom. Rigg raped Jessica with a one to one and a half inch wooden cross. He tried to strangle her with zip ties, but they did not have enough leverage so he tried strangling her with his hands. When he noticed that Jessica was still twitching and alive, he filled a bathtub with hot water and pushed her face into it, drowning the child. Sigg dismembered her body with a saw and razor blade.
Murder of Danni Romig
On February 26, 2003, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, 12-year-old Danni Romig was raped and murdered by 17-year-old Brian Bahr. Bahr lured Danni under a train trestle. He then beat and raped the girl and threw her into the river. It is believed that she was unconscious when thrown in, but not dead, as water was found in her lungs. Police later found a list Bahr had created, consisting of “23 things to do to a girl in the woods.” Those things included the stripping and raping a girl, dressing her back up, and throwing her in a river.
Murder of Antonio Santiago
On the morning of March 21, 2013, Sherri West took her 13-month-old son Antonio for a stroll to the post office in Brunswick, Georgia. While the mother and son were returning home 17-year-old De’Marquise Elkin and 15-year-old Dominique Lang confronted them and attempted to rob them at gunpoint. Elkins pointed a handgun at West and demanded money. West, who had no money to give the assailants, did not comply. Elkins threatened to murder Antonio, saying “give me your money or I’m going to kill you and I’m going to shoot your baby and kill your baby.” West begged the robber not to murder her baby, saying “don’t shoot my baby!” Elkins shot the terrified mother. One bullet grazed her head while the other went through her leg. Lang later testified that Elkins counted down from five. Elkins went over to baby Antonio. West tried to cover her baby with her arms. But the end came anyways for little Antonio. Elkins shot him between the eyes with a .22 caliber handgun and killed him.
Murder of Pamela Vitale
On October 15, 2005, Scott Dyleski, 16, murdered Pamela Vitale, the wife of attorney Daniel Horowitz, in Lafayette, California. He invaded her home and bludgeoned her to death. He also eviscerated her and carved a symbol into her back to express pride in his crime.
Murder of Dhymia Woody
Dhymia was eight-years-old when she was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by 14-year-old Sam Young on June 30, 2008. She was later found in the closet of an abandoned mobile home in Piedmont, South Carolina, dead of asphyxiation. Young plead guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Murder of Valerie Zavala
On January 1, 2003, Samuel Puebla, 17, attempted to rape and murdered 19-year-old Valerie Zavala in San Jose, California. Zavala agreed to drive Puebla home from a New Years Eve party. As she was driving, Puebla attempted to sexually assault her. She resisted and Puebla choked her until she briefly fell unconscious. After awaking, Zavala ran away. Puebla chased her and caught her in the parking lot of a church. He struck her in the head. Zavala was struck with so much force that her eardrum was ruptured and she fell to the ground. Puebla ripped off her clothing, yanked out her tampon, and attempted to rape her. Zavala tried to defend herself, but Puebla repeatedly struck her on the head, sat on her chest, and manually strangled her. After murdering the young woman, he dumped her body in a drainage culvert.
LWOP Is A Just Sentence For Some Juvenile Crimes
The offenses described above, and many other offenses committed by juveniles, are not mistakes that can be attributed to youthful impulsivity or riskiness. These are not cases of teenagers playing pranks or skipping class. These are not cases of teenagers joyriding or dealing drugs. These are evil crimes committed in cold blood by people who knew better. For the offenders described above, as well as many other offenders, a JLWOP sentence is not overly severe or disproportionate when one considers the nature of the crimes. LWOP sentences are especially light compared to the crimes when one considers the fact that, had the offenders been a couple months or years older, they could have gotten the death penalty. Many, in fact, would likely have been given the death penalty, given the heinous nature of their conduct (some juvenile offenders did get the death penalty but had their sentences reversed after Roper). Some of these offenders could have already been executed, given the amount of time that has passed. Adults, who in some cases were only a couple months or years older than these criminals, and who were no more culpable than these offenders (see Are Juveniles Categorically Less Culpable? under the Myths/Facts tab) have been sentenced to death and executed for crimes with less aggravating circumstances than the crimes listed above.
Criminals serving LWOP sentences can live in prison–they can read, write, visit with family, watch T.V., and engage in many other activities. The dead victims cannot. Living in prison is not as painful as what the victims experienced, even if that time in prison lasts decades. That being said, LWOP is still a punishment that should be reserved for extremely serious crimes–like the crimes described above. Most juvenile offenders, and most adult offenders for that matter, do not deserve to go to prison for the rest of their lives without having a chance to be released. But some offenders, including some who have not yet turned 18, do deserve LWOP. No one has a right to rape and strangle a 10-year-old girl in a cornfield and bury her in a shallow grave or commit any other terrible crimes and then escape justice due to their age even though they were old enough to appreciate the wrongfulness of the crime. A 12-year-old who is raped and beaten to death by a 17-year-old like Danni Romig was does not deserve justice any less than a victim who experienced the same fate at the hands of an 18-year-old.
One might accuse me of cherry picking and only writing about the very worst cases. But this argument is erroneous. Advocates of ending JLWOP want all juvenile offenders including the ones described above to have a chance to be released from prison. They aren’t trying to release the criminals responsible for relativity less serious offenses while acknowledging that offenders who committed especially aggravated murders (murders involving rape, murders involving child victims etc.) should stay in prison. Advocates of ending JLWOP want the offenders described above to have a chance to be released and to ultimately be released. I am simply giving examples of some of the murderers they want to release (there are many more juvenile murderers not mentioned above who committed similar crimes). If advocates of ending JLWOP feel that showing the criminals they want to release makes them look unfavorable that is on them for trying to release these offenders, not on me for explaining what they are doing.
Advocates Of Ending JLWOP Are Trying To Release Criminals Responsible For Especially Evil Crimes
Often, when advocates of juvenile criminals are confronted with the brutal details regarding the offenders they want to free from prison they try to get around the fact that they are, in fact, trying to release them. They claim that they only want to give these criminals a chance to be released and aren’t actively trying to free them. And they insist that these offenders will be in prison for a long time and probably won’t end up being released. But this is not genuine. Of course anti-JLWOP activists are trying to free these criminals. They are not spending millions of dollars trying to give these criminals parole hearings that don’t amount to anything. They are spending all this money and energy on freeing them. This is why they often advocate for very short sentences. In Oregon and West Virginia for example, a juvenile offender is eligible for parole after 15 years when they are in their 20’s or 30’s. Anti-JLWOP advocates in Illinois tried to convince lawmakers to give all juveniles parole eligibility in 10 years. This is far more than a meaningful chance to be released. Furthermore, the inability for advocates to directly address and acknowledge the possibility of these criminals being released shows: (1) they know deep down that releasing them is not a good idea; (2) they know that most people would not support releasing them; and (3) they don’t have good arguments for releasing them. If they did have persuasive arguments for releasing these criminals into society they would be able to say “yes, Johnny Freeman threw a five-year-old girl out a 14th story window after raping her, but if he’s released that’s O.K. because A, B, and C” or “yes, Samuel Puebla attempted to rape, and then murdered, a young woman, but his release would be O.K. because X, Y, and Z.” They would be able to give arguments strong enough to override the barbarity of the crimes. But they do not do this because they can’t. There is no good argument for releasing certain offenders from prison.
Some Juvenile Criminals Are Culpable Enough for LWOP
When advocates of ending JLWOP make the claim that JLWOP sentences are cruel or overly harsh, they seldom admit or acknowledge the barbarity of some juvenile crimes. The idea that it is cruel or unusual to “sentence children to die in prison” may make sense at first. But when one really considers what these offenders did, it becomes difficult to justify their release. Imagine what it was like to be Shavanna McCann. Imagine, that at five-years-old, you are taken to a vacant apartment and raped. Then imagine being shoved out the 14th story window and holding on for your life with about 140 feet between you and the hard ground below. Then imagine being shoved a second time and falling to your death. Perhaps Freeman did have diminished culpability (I don’t believe that all juveniles have diminished culpability but that is an issue for a different post). But does that diminished culpability outweigh the horrific nature of the crime? Does his diminished culpability warrant release from prison? The issue of culpability and neuroscience is discussed in different posts (see http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/research/ http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/are-juveniles-categorically-less-culpable/). Even if these offenders were less culpable they were certainly culpable enough to know that these crimes were wrong. They understood what they were doing and how the victims were harmed. Freeman understood that he was inflicting severe emotional and physical pain onto Shavanna when he raped her and threw her out a 14th story window. He understood that by throwing her out the 14th story window he would kill her. He knew that by killing her, he was denying her the ability to grow up and enjoy life. Elkins understood that baby Antonio would die after being shot in the head and would never grow up or even live to toddlerhood. Even if these offenders did not understand the nature of the crimes as well as an adult would they are culpable enough for a JLWOP sentence to be justified. Their supposed diminished culpability is overridden by the horrendous and evil nature of the crimes.
But Don’t All Juveniles Deserve A “Second Chance?”
Advocates of ending JLWOP speak a lot about “second chances” for juvenile criminals. In one op-ed published in the York Daily Record in 2015 a juvenile lifer wrote “Now at the age of 55, with 40 years served, I find myself perplexed and abandoned. Given the state of things in this commonwealth, I am increasingly alarmed by how far our legislative, judicial and correctional systems have moved away from second chance and the belief that, with time and opportunity, inmates can demonstrate a change in behavior and develop a strong desire to do right.” The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth writes at the top one of their website pages “ALL CHILDREN DESERVE A SECOND CHANCE.” They also write: “Hundreds told as children they were worth nothing more than dying in prison have been freed and thousands have received new sentences short of life without parole, giving them hope of a second chance.” It sounds nice. Especially when the term “children” is used to describe the offenders. Sure, children who make mistakes should get a second chance. But when one dives deeper into what these “children” did it becomes apparent that there are, in fact, some juvenile offenders who don’t deserve additional chances. That 2015 op-ed I just quoted was written by Warner Batty, one of the men who gang raped and burned alive Betty Bradford in 1975. That’s right. A man who inflicted unimaginable physical and emotional pain on a young woman by raping her and burning her alive is complaining about the system not giving him a second chance. He further writes: “Are our lives to be abandoned and forgotten because of a bad decision made as a child?… Are we to languish the rest of our days, to die as prisoners having never been given another chance? It would seem that life without parole equals a denial of any hope.” That’s right, because if anyone on this earth deserves hope and a second chance it’s the man who raped and burned a woman to death. Through the op-ed he complains more about his lack of hope. He also describes himself as a “child” when he committed the offense, trying to diminish his responsibility and manipulate us into supporting him. I will give Batty credit for having a reconciliation meeting with two of Betty’s family members. Restorative justice, if done right, is a very good thing and something that our system should utilize more often. But that doesn’t mean Batty should be to trying to manipulate the public and diminish his part in the crime in order to get out of prison.
Do most offenders deserve “second chances”? Of course. But there are some criminals who don’t deserve a chance at freedom due to the brutal and cruel nature of their crimes. If you kidnap a two-year-old and rape her and beat and strangle her to death, as Jose Arredondo did, then you don’t deserve a “second chance.” If you murder a five-year-old boy, eat his flesh, and store his bones on your dresser, as Michael Woodmansee did, then you don’t deserve a “second chance”. If you carjack and kidnap a young woman, rob her, and then blow her head off with a sawed-off shot gun to eliminate her as a witness, as Laurence Lovette did, then you don’t deserve a “second chance.” The victims are dead. They will never get to see their families again. They will never enjoy life again. They will never get to experience life events such as weddings, graduations, or having their own children. If the victims are very young they may even be denied a chance to learn to walk or start elementary school. For the criminals to enjoy the very freedoms and the life experiences that they viciously robbed from the victims while the victims rot in graves, is deeply unjust. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not making already devastating crimes even more unjust by giving criminals the things they robbed from victims.
Advocates of ending JLWOP often try to justify the release of criminals sentenced for crimes committed as juveniles by pointing out how the offenders have changed for the better. While we should support a convict’s effort to turn their life around in prison, we must never forget the impact their crimes had on the victims. The offender may have changed for the better, but the dead victim hasn’t. The murder victim did change since the crime–they went from being alive to being dead–a pretty big change, but not a very positive one. And, since death, they have changed by decomposing in their graves. I am not trying to shock or disgust anyone. I am pointing out that, even if an offender claims to have changed, their release may still not be justified. Additionally, we must be careful in regards to claims made by convicts about personal change. They may have, in fact, made positive changes. Or they may be manipulating us as explained in the first section.
Furthermore, many of these juvenile offenders have already had second chances. For example, the juvenile who raped and murdered 10-year-old Vicki Larson had a long history of raping and terrorizing others. He was given many chances and was given a summer release prior to murdering Vicki. Anthony Givens, who raped and murdered Liza Olsen, also had an extensive criminal history. A few weeks before killing Liza he broke into another woman’s home and sexually assaulted her. Givens, who was armed with a knife, told the woman “shut up or I’ll kill you.” He then struck her in the head with a bottle. He confessed to the crime, but charges were dismissed after he was convicted of Liza’s murder. He also had juvenile adjudications for unlawfully driving an automobile and 2nd degree home invasion. He was given three years of probation for the unlawful automobile use. The probation term included 90 days tether. He was on tether when he raped and murdered Liza. Brian Granger, the man who raped and murdered Sandra Nestle, had a juvenile adjudication for a criminal sexual assault on a seven-year-old in 1981. He was sent to the Boysville Detention Center and then the Parmenter House. He had been released for less than a week before murdering Sandra. Granger’s story is similar to that of Robert Houston, the man who raped and murdered Raechale Elton in 2006. Houston had been sent to the Youth Health Associates group home after he committed two knife-point sexual assaults. He continued his violence during his stay at the home–he was caught planning and attempting more attacks. Finally, Houston escalated his conduct to aggravated murder.
Yet another offender who had many chances is Markus Evans, who murdered Jonoshia Anderson in December 2010. Jonoshia, 17, wanted to become a nursing assistant by 2012 and have her nursing degree by 2017. But she will never get to reach those goals. Jonoshia was confronted by Evans while returning home from high school. Evans ordered her into an alley at gunpoint and shot her in the back of the head. The assailant had an extensive criminal history. He assaulted a high school safety aide with an iron rod. He attacked another school aide, diving across a desk to hit him. He was arrested after the latter incident but was released. He poured gasoline around the house and tried to light his mother on fire after she took his motorized toy car away. At 15, he shot his cousin in the back with a shotgun. The case was kept in juvenile court and Evans spent 14 months incarcerated for the crime. After being released he murdered Jonoshia. Jonoshia will never graduate high school or become a nurse as she desired. Meanwhile, her killer receives yet another chance? For offenders like Evans to get dozens of chances while the victims get none is immensely unfair and unjust.
Ending JLWOP Harms Society
As a society, we have certain rules about how we are to behave and treat one another. Most of these rules, when broken, don’t warrant LWOP. Most don’t even warrant prison time. If one purchases a small amount of drugs or shoplifts $10 worth of merchandise, justice doesn’t require that they be incarcerated for life (in these cases I would say they shouldn’t be incarcerated at all). But what if one kidnaps and murders a five-year-old boy and eats part of his flesh as Michael Woodmansee admitted to doing in his journal? The laws and societal norms against murder and cannibalism are extremely important. If one violates such an important vital rule they forfeit their right to live in our society. Society deserves justice in the form of a proportionate and appropriate punishment. When an offender who understood the nature of the serious crimes they committed is punished less because of their age, and the rights of the victims to have justice and peace are denied, a message is sent that it is more acceptable for the offender to violate laws. Society is also sending the message that the crimes committed against the victims were not as wrong and that what was taken–physical health, mental health, lives etc.–aren’t as important. This is wrong. Victims of juvenile criminals matter just as much as victims of adult criminals. When one moves beyond the shallow and manipulative euphemisms and talking points about “second chances,” “mistakes,” and “children” and really examines the nature of these juvenile crimes it becomes apparent that some juveniles deserve to never leave prison.
3. Ending JLWOP Harms Victims
If all offenders who are sentenced for crimes committed before their 18th birthdays get parole hearings, victims will suffer. Victims who desire to keep the offenders in prison would have to testify at these hearings and relive the crimes. They would also have to live with the fear and worry about the offenders being released. If JLWOP is retroactively banned, victims whose family members’ killers are currently serving LWOP will have to endure re-sentencing hearings, which are also very painful.
The pain inflicted on victims is explained very well in a brief filed by the Maryland Crime Victim Resource Center in the Mathena v. Malvo case:
“Resentencing determinations are not a ‘no cost’ event, or of only de minimus harm to victims. A victim’s interest in finality constitutes a very critical interest in fairness to victims. As this Court has stated:
Only with real finality can the
victims of crime move forward
knowing the moral judgment will be
carried out. … To unsettle these
expectations is to inflict a profound
injury to the “powerful and legitimate
interest in punishing the guilty,” … an
interest shared by the State and the
victims of crime alike. (citations
omitted; emphasis added.)
“Calderon, supra. Reopening a sentence causes harm
to victims because it nullifies sentencing finality.
The determination set out in Calderon protects the
interests and rights of victims. The emotional
exhaustion, depression, fear and horror for a victim,
often never ending, is greatly amplified by
resentencing proceedings. During each resentencing
proceeding, the crime’s gruesome details committed
against the victim’s loved one are re-raised and reexamined.
“Resentencing proceedings subject victims
presenting impact statements to having to recall all
the details and speak publicly about the impact upon
them of murders that often the victims have, until
then, repressed and decided never to think about or
discuss again in public or private, with respect to the
persons they have lost, the terror that they felt when
the crime was fresh, and the fear that likely still
stalks them at night about the crime, which they
endure only with difficulty, counselling, and the
passage of time. See, Jim Parsons & Tiffany Bergin,
The Impact of Criminal Justice Involvement on
Victims’ Mental Health, 23 J. Traum. Stress 182-
183(2010); see also, Judith Lewis Herman, The
Mental Health of Crime Victims: Impact of Legal
Intervention, 16 J. Traum. Stress 159(2003).
“Despite this revived pain, victims cannot
resist being pulled into these resentencing
proceedings. They do not turn a blind eye to
resentencing proceedings since victims typically are
perhaps the only original crime participants still
available — long after the original prosecutor,
investigators and judicial officials have moved on —
who can present a first-person account of ancient murders, in opposition to an offender’s self-serving
and self-centered or biased recollection.
“Moreover, even when victims do not attend
these proceedings, they are harmed by their loss of
privacy and may face ad hominem criticism in the
mainstream and social media for whatever they say
or do not say, especially here where Respondent is a
juvenile killer of wide notoriety.
“If sentence re-openings are broadly
allowed, no victim can ever be assured when
speculation about the crime will come to an end,
if ever, and when finality will occur, or whether
the details and fear associated with these horrific
deaths can finally be suppressed by them from
their daily thoughts. Ongoing fear about the lack
of finality is the cause of the pain and the source
of the emptiness and the exhaustion that makes
victims wonder how much longer they can dredge
up and articulate in a public courtroom, at a
resentencing long after the conviction is final and
typically in front of a successor judge, their pain
and traumatic memories which force them,
emotionally, back to the time and scene of the
crime and its impact.
“Victims are entitled to the legal and emotional
finality provided by each state, absent constitutional
violations. United States v. MacDonald, 435 U.S.
850, 853-54 (1978)(‘The rule of finality has
particular force in criminal prosecutions’). This is
particularly true long after the conviction is final
when the underlying issue being judicially
challenged is the rehabilitation of the juvenile
murderer which is an executive branch
responsibility, and a concededly difficult one at that.
Consequently, victims have a protectable fairness
interest in protecting the finality of judgments in
criminal cases that cannot be overlooked but must be
considered. Calderon, supra.
“The expansive reading below of this Court’s
Miller and Montgomery rulings negatively impacts the
due process and equal protection rights of virtually
every victim of a juvenile killer. The Fifth
Amendment interests of victims to finality must be
considered and balanced, not ignored. This Court
long ago decided that courts may not ignore victims.
“Extending the ruling below to every juvenile
murderer sentenced to life by requiring specially worded findings could have been routinely met by
judges utilizing a check box with ‘magic words’ on a
standardized form, the use of which does not
automatically imply special consideration. Therefore,
the failure to use the correct magic words or a routine
standard ‘check list’ does not outweigh eliminating
finality, and adversely affecting many victims of
“The ruling below also ignores that regularized
consideration for release on the back end of a
juvenile’s sentence is constitutionally sufficient.
Furthermore, where the record of a plea bargained
discretionary sentencing hearing on the front end
of a sentence utilized a comprehensive presentence
report, and Malvo was represented by counsel, and
an original record shows either implicitly or
explicitly that the correct legal standards were
observed, ‘magic words’ were not required by
Miller or Montgomery. As one court has stated,
‘There also seems to be an evolving standard of
decency afforded to victims in the United States of
America.’ Chandler v. State, 2015 WL 13744176,
at *2 (2015)(emphasis added), aff’d 242 So. 3d 65
(Miss. 2018), cert. denied, Chandler v. Mississippi (Jan. 7, 2019). Just as courts should protect the
rights of juvenile murderers, they must also
protect the rights of victims. Entirely failing to
consider the victims’ interests in finality violates
victims legally protected fairness and dignity
Imagine if your child, niece, nephew, grandchild, sibling, cousin, parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or other family member was brutally murdered by a juvenile. Would you want to spend the rest of your life re-living the crime and worrying about the killer being released? Would you want to see the murderer released after a mere 15 years, as is allowed in some states? For too long the impact of the anti-JLWOP movement on victims has been ignored and disregarded. But it’s time for victims to be heard. The surviving victims did not choose to lose loved ones to murderers. The murder victims did not choose to be murdered. The offenders, on the other hand, chose to commit crimes that led to their prison sentences. But in the national debate on sentencing juvenile criminals, the rights of offenders to escape consequences for their own acts are placed above the rights of innocent victims.
Who’s Responsible For JLWOP?
The tendency from anti-JLWOP activists has been to blame prosecutors, judges, and the entire criminal justice system for JLWOP sentences. But this tendency is misguided. Prosecutors don’t want to have to seek JLWOP. Judges don’t want to impose that sentence. In some cases JLWOP has to be imposed on offenders. The blame doesn’t lie with criminal justice officials who are doing their jobs by getting justice for victims and keeping society safe. Rather, it lies with the offenders whose actions necessitated JLWOP. Had the offenders followed the golden rule and treated others as they would like to be treated (i.e not raping people, not throwing people out 14 story windows, not burning people alive), they wouldn’t be in prison for life. I find it absolutely appalling when criminals responsible for the most horrific behavior possible demand that they be treated with leniency and freed and then claim that their just sentences are too cruel and are the fault of others. When you choose to commit highly aggravated crimes you choose the punishments that they result in, including JLWOP. It is unfair to to put the well-being of criminals who chose their situations above the victims who did not.
Can Long Sentences Work Instead?
Often, those in favor of ending JLWOP will argue that sentencing juvenile criminals to long prison terms that allow for release in 20, 30, or 40 years, is sufficient for justice and safety. This may seem to be the case during the sentencing. If a juvenile criminal is sentenced to 30 years to life today some people may initially be satisfied. They have 30 long years to wait before worrying about the perpetrator being released. But in 30 years when the parole hearing finally comes around, they won’t be so happy with the sentence. For victims, the emotional trauma is still severe decades after the crimes. Going through the parole process will still be very painful, even after 30 or 40 years. The crimes themselves may become less well-known as time goes on, but their horrific and evil nature never diminishes. An aggravated murder committed in 1980, for example, remains just as horrible in 2020 as it was in 1981 or 1982. Take the example of Jason Foreman, the five-year-old boy who was kidnapped, stabbed, and partly eaten in 1975. Kidnapping is kidnapping. Murder is murder. Cannibalism is cannibalism. It doesn’t matter if these crimes were committed yesterday, last year, or 45 years ago. No matter how much time passes, I doubt that many people would be O.K. living next to Jason’s killer. And, regardless of what anti-JLWOP activists say, Jason’s murderer and others like him will always pose some level of danger and can never be fully trusted to follow the law. Not all people stop engaging in criminal behavior as they age. There have been cases where people who committed crimes in their youth were released from prison and went on to commit more crimes in middle or old age. Moreover, in my experience, victims are not relieved from their pain by the fact that the assailant will be eligible for parole in a long long time. I have spoken with victims who will see the offenders released in as long as 30 years. And while it certainly is worse for victims to know that the perpetrator may be paroled in 15 years, rather than 25, 30 or 40 years, it is still better for them to live knowing that the criminal will never be released. And finally, I will remind readers that if JLWOP were retroactively abolished, many extremely violent offenders would be immediately or almost immediately eligible for release. Johnny Freeman, for example, raped Shavanna McCann and killed her by throwing her out a 14th story window in 1985. At the time of this writing, the rape and murder of Shavanna McCann happened 35 years ago. If JLWOP were abolished today and he was re-sentenced to 30 years to life he would be immediately eligible for parole. Even if he were sentenced to 40 years to life, which is usually considered the longest a sentence can be before it becomes akin to an LWOP sentence, he would eligible be for release in five years. The same can be said about Scott Darnell, who raped and murdered 10-year-old Vicki Larson in 1979, and David Biro, who murdered Nancy and Richard Langert in 1990, 41 years ago and 30 years ago respectively at the time of this writing. There are simply some people who should never be released into society. And some of them have been sentenced for crimes committed before their 18th birthdays.
Pros vs. Cons Of JLWOP
As established, ending JLWOP would cause significant harm for victims and for society as a whole. Justice would be denied. Victims would be re-traumatized and tormented. Safety would be put at risk. What would the benefits be? How does releasing child rapist and murderer Jose Arredondo help society? His release benefits him–he gets the freedom he robbed from baby Katherine and perhaps would get to commit more crimes. But how does the country benefit? Advocates of ending JLWOP claim that juvenile offenders like Arredondo can make positive contributions to society. For example, CFSY writes on their website: “We believe society should provide motivations and opportunities for healing, rehabilitation, and the potential for them to one day return to our communities as productive members of society.” I agree with this statement in regards to most offenders. Many former juvenile offenders, as well as many former adult offenders, can and do contribute positively to society. Most people who commit crimes should be given the chance to become productive citizens. But are all juvenile offenders capable of creating positive change? America has many young people who have the ability to lead and give to society who haven’t raped five-year-olds and thrown them out of 14 story windows. Society does not need Freeman or others like him. Furthermore, society has lost many precious members to juvenile murderers. For example, read the memorial we wrote for Eve Carson.
Read about Eve’s accomplishments. Had Eve not been kidnapped, robbed, and murdered at age 22 she would have gone on to make significant contributions to our world. Instead she is dead. Eve will never get the chance to attain the dreams she worked for. Yet the man who murdered her and stole these opportunities from her should be released?
CFSY also writes the following:
Mission: Catalyze the just and equitable treatment of children in the United States by demanding a ban on life without parole and other extreme sentences for children who cause harm; advancing alternative responses that focus on their unique characteristics as children, including their capacity for change; and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated youth to thrive as adults and lead in their communities.
I am sorry but how is having child rapist and murderer Austin Sigg as a “community leader” going to work? Does anyone really believe that a man who rapes, strangles, and drowns a 10-year-old girl has the potential to lead our communities? Are our communities so dysfunctional that we need offenders like him to lead us? Like the idea of giving all juvenile criminals “second chances”, this may sound good at first. But when one really examines what these offenders did it is hard to imagine any positive that can come from releasing them. Does anyone really believe that any of the offenders discussed here, along with other juvenile offenders responsible for serious crimes, are going to cure cancer, end poverty, or in any way help society?
CFSY also writes: “We believe sentencing minors to life terms sends an unequivocal message to young people that they are beyond redemption.” Isn’t it just so cruel to send a man who shoots a one-year-old in the face and murders him away for life? We are sending the message that Elkins is incapable of redemption. How dare we. All he did was murder a one-year-old baby in front of the child’s mother. That crime does not make him irredeemable. We should be ashamed of ourselves for having a system that sentences this 17-year-old baby-murdering child to life in prison.
But what if Elkins is beyond redemption? Isn’t it possible that some people in this world are beyond redemption as demonstrated by their conduct? And isn’t it possible that some of these irredeemable people have not yet reached their 18th birthdays? As described in the section on the dangers of ending JLWOP, not all criminals are able to change and grow. The idea that all people, even those like Donald Torres, who burn one and four-year-old children alive, are able to be rehabilitated is not based in reality. It is a fantasy based in well-intentioned but dangerous ignorance. We must base laws and policies on what is true, not what we wish to be true.
JLWOP is a rare and necessary sentence given to those who act with an extreme callous disregard to the rights of others and commit horrific and evil crimes. It is necessary in such cases to provide justice, to protect the victims from further trauma, and to protect society from future crimes. Again, I will stress that most juvenile offenders do not deserve to be incarcerated for life. The same can be said with most adult offenders. But there are some people in this world, who, for whatever reason, can never be trusted to follow the golden rule and treat others with respect and kindness. There are no benefits to releasing these criminals into society. Any possible benefits society could get from releasing such offenders are overridden by the disadvantages. It is not worth it to put society in danger, deny justice for victims, and inflict additional trauma on surviving victims so that extremely violent murderers can have “second chances” (or third, fourth, or tenth chances, depending on how many crimes they committed). As a society, we must choose what we value more–safety, justice, and victims’ rights or evil criminals.
Without Conscious The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Dr. Robert Hare, a world-expert on psychopathy.
Porter, S., ten Brinke, L., & Wilson, K. (2009). Crime profiles and conditional release performance of psychopathic and non-psychopathic sexual offenders. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 14(1), 109–118. https://doi.org/10.1348/135532508X284310
Murder of the Bojorquez family
https://tucson.com/news/blogs/courthouse/at-the-courthouse-triple-murderer-taking-credit-for-another-homicide/article_0b03913a-54c7-11e0-8b0a-001cc4c002e0.html https://www.dailysignal.com/2009/10/20/adult-time-for-adult-crime-ralph-david-cruz-jr/ https://tucson.com/news/blogs/courthouse/at-the-courthouse-triple-murderer-taking-credit-for-another-homicide/article_0b03913a-54c7-11e0-8b0a-001cc4c002e0.html https://tucson.com/news/blogs/courthouse/at-the-courthouse-triple-murderer-taking-credit-for-another-homicide/article_0b03913a-54c7-11e0-8b0a-001cc4c002e0.html
Betty Marie Ilgenfritz Bradford
Murder of Katherine Cardenas https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Laredo-teen-receives-multiple-life-sentences-in-3459790.php
Murder of Eve Carson
Murder of Raechale Elton
Murder of Shirley Crook
Murder of Jason Foreman
Murder of the Godt family
Murder of Shimika Hicks
Murder of Vicki Larson
Murder of Shavanna McCann
Murder of Sandra Nestle
Murder of Elizabeth Olsen
Murder of Minnie Peaples
Murder of Jessica Ridgeway
Murder of Danni Romig
Murder of Antonio Santiago
Murder of Pamela Vitale
Murder of Valerie Zavala
Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center Inc. SCOTUS brief
The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth says all juvenile offenders deserve a second chance and are capable of being part of society.
Warren Batty Jr. demands release