2014 The Illinois Supreme Court took up whether or not Miller v Alabama should be applied retroactively and declared that it was. Notably, states all over the nation are ruling in differing ways on this question, and it will ultimately end up back in the Supreme Court.
2015 All approximately 100 convicted murderers who were teens at the time of their crimes are getting ONE new resentencing hearing. Each county States Attorney office should be contacting victims families to notify them of hearing dates. Call them if you have not heard anything.
2015 Compromise legislation bringing Illinois law into compliance with Miller v Alabama will NOT be retroactive, we are told by States Attorneys negotiating language in the bill with the well-funded juvenile advocates pushing to give offenders many chances at early release throughout their sentence, not just one. For the latest news see the NOVJM Facebook Page.
Illinois Supreme Court hears juvenile sentencing dispute
Posted: Jan 15, 2014 6:25 PM CSTUpdated: Jan 15, 2014 6:26 PM CST
In the future, life sentences won’t be mandatory, the judges will have some discretion.
The question argued Wednesday in Illinois was whether the courts decision should be applied retroactively, giving some juvenile murderers a new chance at parole.
One victim’s mother was very upset.
Nineteen years ago Marsha Norskog, who lost her daughter in a murder, said after the trail, “I’m very happy that the other families will be spared the tragedy of losing a child because Steven will never, ever step foot on the street again.”
Norskog was confidently predicting that Steven Pfiel would spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering two people, Norskog’s thirteen-year-old daughter Hillary, and his own brother.
But today, Norskog watched as the Illinois Supreme Court considered whether killers like Pfiel should be able to make a case for parole.
“I believe it’s an insult to our judicial system to say that they deserve to be heard again. What does that say about our judicial system. I think it’s a slap in the face,” Norskog said.
Pfiel had just turned 17 when he beat and stabbed Hillary Norskog. It’s because he was a juvenile that his sentence could get another look.
Much like David Biro, who was 17 when he murdered Richard and Nancy Langert in their Winnetka townhouse in 1990. Nancy’s mother, Joyce Bishop, was there Wednesday too.
“To see his picture in the paper and hear people talk about how sad it is that he’s being incarcerated, it’s more than I can bear,” Bishop said.
The specific case argued Wednesday, however, involved neither Pfiel or Biro, but Addolfo Davis.
He was just 14-years-old when he joined two other gang members on a robbery, which ended as a double murder.
Although he didn’t do the shooting, he was tried as an adult, convicted as an accomplice for the murders and received the mandatory life sentence without parole.
Davis’ attorneys argued Wednesday that as the U.S. Supreme Court suggested, the sentencing judge should have been allowed to consider Davis’ troubled upbringing, the fact he was only an accomplice and the possibility that he could change for the better.
“Our argument is that under any circumstance a fourteen-year-old child who was not the trigger person should not be sentenced to life without parole, and that he has served twenty three years in prison and that should be enough,” Defense attorney Patricia Soung said.
Davis’ cousin was in court, and agreed.
“I think any child who got life without parole at the age of fourteen-years-old should have a second chance,” Davis’ cousin, Shanna Davis, said.
Six other states have already dealt with this issue, three of them found that the Supreme Court’s decision should be applied retroactively, with juvenile murderers getting another look at their sentences.
Three states found it should not.
The spring legislative session has adjourned with no resolution as to how Illinois will comply with the Miller v Alabama Supreme Court ruling declaring mandatory life sentences for teens who kill to be unconstitutional. Read coverage in The Atlantic in which we are quoted, but treated (once again, sadly) as “opposition” only.
Our view of our role is that of stakeholder in a public policy discussion that deliberately and constantly excluded victims families. We asked that legislation not be voted on until all affected victims families were at least told of its existence, given that the proposed bills could endanger the lives of these murder victims families.
Victims families are gratified that the vastly over-reaching legislative effort by Juvenile Justice Reform advocates that had passed HB 1348 out of committee on March 7 was never able to garner significant support. Senate leader Don Harmon had been attempting to broker a compromise between advocates for offenders and the prosecutors, but when the offender advocates refused to give up on the idea of a “mid-sentence review”, essentially re-opening the life and long term prison sentences to new sentences decades after the original trial, they could not garner the votes anywhere near necessary to support their bill.
Two different approaches had being debated this month in the Illinois legislature on the issue of sentencing of teen killers that would put Illinois in compliance with the recent Supreme Court ruling in Miller v Alabama.
NOVJL supported SB 55 that would bring Illinois fully into compliance with the Miller ruling – but nothing more. We were stunned that nearing the end of the session, advocates for the offenders who complained that there was a stalemate, refused to support passage of a bill that would give Judges more sentencing options for juveniles who kill and faced long term sentences as an adult for their crimes. Since SB 55 was not retroactive, victim notification is not an issue. HB 1348 went far beyond what Miller requires and would retroactively undo any juvenile offender sentence of 40 years or more. This could include not only murderers but high level sex offenders, etc. NOVJL opposes it because all the affected victims families have not been notified and given a chance to be heard on a piece of legislation that could potentially free someone who murdered their family members, possibly even endangering their lives. We believe retroactivity is completely illegal and unnecessary under Illinois law. That issue will be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court later in the next year.
Victims families are urged to contact legislators and make their views known.
Download our FACT SHEET on the various bills.
NOVJL is urging state officials and advocates for this legislation to make their top priority to inform and support all affected victims families of these bills.
The few victims families that have been made aware of this threat to the prison sentences for the murders of their loved ones are available to the media and are meeting with legislators. See our press release – note that the bills did not come up in “Veto Session” in the fall of 2012.
Illinois Legislators will be asked in the new legislative session that began in 2013 to consider competing bills: one from States Attorneys, supported by victims families; the other from offender advocates pushing to undo life sentences long since finalized for those who murdered our loved ones.
Victims Families are invited to “comment” on this commentary column about the bill in the Huffington Post.
A politically pre-disposed District Court in Cook County became the only court in the nation to apply the Miller ruling retroactively. Experts tell us that this retroactivity issue is likely to be decided, as in other states, by the Illinois Supreme Court. Every Supreme Court in the nation that has yet ruled on this question has agreed that Miller is NOT retroactive. Watch this website for any updates.
Only a handful of victims families of the approximately 100 cases of teen killers at issue know about the pending legislative debate that could profoundly affect their lives, perhaps even endangering them. NOVJL calls on Illinois leaders to not take action on these proposals until all the affected families are notified and given a chance to be heard in the debate.
NOVJL is also asking Illinois legislators to join the national consensus emerging that the Miller Supreme Court ruling against mandatory life sentences for teens who kill cannot be applied retroactively. In fact the Illinois Supreme Court already ruled in 2002 on this exact point.
For more, see our Illinois legislation page.
BORN IN ILLINOIS
The National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers was actually founded in Illinois in 2006 with seven families of murder victims standing together to defeat legislation that would have retroactively introduced regular parole hearings into the natural life sentences their murderers are serving. We quickly found others like us nationally, and created a national family for mutual support and information.
Some of the cases of Illinois teen killers are detailed here.
Thanks to the work and commitment of Illinois Victims families of these teen killers, we in Illinois are working to set standards for how victims should be included in the sentencing public policy discussions, locally and nationally. This includes many meetings with those advocating for the offenders trying to persuade them to treat us as the key stakeholders we are to this conversation, as well as getting them to acknowledge that victims rights are human rights. That process was rocky, but at least being attempted.
We believe that one cannot be a human rights advocate and not also advocate for innocent victims of violent crime and their rights.
Illinois is home to some of the most well funded offender advocates in the nation as well. There are several full time paid staff attorneys and advocates who are working every single day for years now to end life sentences for all teens, regardless of the seriousness of their crimes, or their heinousness, dangerousness, and culpability.
Early in their work they said they were committed to including us, but in recent years we have only had been treated to silence, exclusion, and even in some cases, open hostility. While they continue to treat the innocent victims’ families of these crimes worse than they do the guilty murderers, we call on them to fulfill their promise and work with us for public policy reform that is respectful of the victims of these crimes, but that can also address some of their legitimate concerns.
Contact Illinois NOVJL @ 312-882-4584 or 815-514-4933