Letter to Ohio House Speaker

Hello, Mr. Speaker,

I am the Ohio coordinator for the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM). I am emailing to urge you not to bring Senate Bill 256 to the House floor. 

SB 256 would ban life without parole for all juvenile criminals except those who murder three or more people. NOVJM, which represents over 370 victims around the country, strongly opposes SB 256 because it would deny justice, traumatize victims, and endanger society. 

SB 256 would deny justice by requiring grossly lenient sentences

SB 256 on murderers

Under SB 256, juveniles who murder one person would be required to be eligible for parole after 25 years. The bill makes exceptions for juveniles who commit multiple homicides– juveniles who murder two people would be required to be eligible for parole in 30 years while juveniles who murder three people would be eligible for life without parole. In order for life without parole to be an option, the juvenile would have to murder at least three people. 

There are several problems with how the bill deals with homicides. First, the multiple homicide exceptions only apply to those who kill two or more people. Attempted murders do not count. A juvenile could go on a shooting spree, killing two people and severely injuring and attempting to kill 28 people. Because the shooter only succeeded in killing two people, we would have to consider releasing them after 30 years. They could potentially serve a sentence of only one year per person shot. Needless to say, one year per person shot is not a proportionate punishment. If a mass shooter shoots 24 people, but only succeeds in killing one victim, we would have to consider releasing them in 25 years. Again, they would potentially serve only one year per person shot. 

Second, these exceptions only apply if the juvenile killer was the principal offender in each killing. As described below, someone like Jordyn Wade, who was an active participant in the murders of four people and the attempted murder of one other could be released after 25 years–five years per person shot and about six years per person murdered.

In addition, SB 256 mandates parole eligibility for juveniles who kill one or two people regardless of the aggravating circumstances of the crimes. A juvenile who commits one or two aggravated murders is still required to be eligible for parole in 25 or 30 years even when the nature of the crimes warrants a longer sentence.  A juvenile could murder one or two children or commit one or two murders while committing or attempting to commit a rape and still be required to be parole eligible. 

SB 256 on non-homicide offenders

Under SB 256, juveniles who commit non-homicide offenses, such as rape and attempted murder, would be required to be eligible for parole after 18 years. The non-homicide part of SB 256 makes no exception for the number of people harmed or the nature of the crimes. It assumes that no non-homicide crime committed by a juvenile, from the rape of a child to attempted murder to kidnapping, will ever warrant a sentence longer than 18 years to life. This is asinine.

With SB 256, a juvenile could rape and torture 20 women and children and could be released after 18 years, at age 35, serving less than one year per victim. A juvenile who attempts to commit mass murder, but does not succeed in killing anyone would be required to be released in 18 years, regardless of the number of people harmed. 

The non-homicide section of SB 256 also fails to consider the impact of non-homicide crimes on victims. Under SB 256, a juvenile could destroy someone’s life by inflicting significant injuries that disfigure, disable, or incapacitate them and still be released after a mere 18 years. For example, consider the case of Judy Malinowski, the woman Judy’s Law is named after. Judy was doused with gasoline and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend, leaving her severely disfigured and disabled. She managed to survive for two years. But during the time between the attack and her death, she was confined to a hospital bed, and to put it bluntly, didn’t have a life. I also ask you to consider the case of Queena Vuong. Queena was raped and beaten by a 16-year-old. The beating was so severe that she was left paralyzed, blind, unable to speak, and with profound intellectual disabilities. 18 years for destroying someone’s life is not a proportionate punishment. 

I also urge you to consider a point I made during oral testimony. Sometimes, there is little or no difference between a homicide offender and a non-homicide offender. For example, in one case, a man rapes and stabs a woman and succeeds in killing her. In the other case, a man 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. While there is a difference between the crimes, 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. It is ridiculous to say the attempted murderer is a better guy because a good Samaritan happened to come by.

SB 256 would endanger Ohioans by allowing several dangerous criminals to be released 

Offenders SB 256 could release

The following is a list of just some of the offenders SB 256 could release. 

Jacob Larosa. He attempted to rape a 94-year-old woman and beat her to death with a heavy metal flashlight.

Devonere Simmonds. He murdered two people and attempted to murder two others during a 2013 crime spree. One of the murders involved Simmonds shooting a store clerk in the eye during a robbery, departing, and then returning to fatally shoot the wounded man in the head.

Jordyn Wade. Wade murdered four people and attempted to murder one person during a home invasion robbery. Wade and his partner in crime Robert Adams took the victims hostage inside the home and robbed them. They then forced them into the basement. Adams asked Wade, “should I off (kill) them all?” Wade answered, “yes.” Adams then shot the hostages, ignoring their pleas for their lives. A 16-year-old girl was shot in the head but survived by playing dead. The survivor wrote in a letter to the court that Wade “permanently destroyed my mind, heart, and soul…. I will always have a deep, deep hatred for Jordyn Wade … it feels great his life can be taken away, the way he took my sister and father’s life.” Because Wade was not the principal offender, he would be eligible for parole after 25 years even though he was responsible for the deaths of four people. The surviving victim would be forced to repeatedly re-live the horrifying experience.

Gavon Ramsay. He strangled a 98-year-old woman to death and then undressed and sexually abused her corpse. Ramsay was interested in serial killers and had long fantasized about raping and murdering people.

Chaz Bunch and Brandon Moore. Bunch and Moore kidnapped and repeatedly gang-raped a young woman. Bunch wanted to murder her. Moore shoved a gun in her mouth and threatened to harm her and her family if she told anyone about the crimes.

I ask that you honestly consider the possibility of these rapists and murderers being released. If you do not want to see them released, NOVJM asks that you not make that a possibility by bringing SB 256 to the House floor.

The dangers of early release

We have seen many cases of criminals, including juvenile criminals, being released and going on to commit more crimes. NOVJM lists almost 100 examples on our website. Here is just a sample. 

Reginald McFadden (example seven, section one) spent 24 years in prison for a home-invasion robbery-murder he committed at age 16. He applied for clemency and was supported by corrections officials and psychologists. He was released and went on to murder two people and rape a woman.

Travis Lewis (example 14, section one) was sentenced to 28 years in prison for a double murder he committed at 16. He was paroled after 23 years and went on to murder another woman.

Dwain Little (example 18, section one) was 15 when he raped and murdered a girl. He was paroled and went on to rape and attempt to murder another woman. 

John Miller (example 19, section one) spent 17 years in prison for the murder of a baby he committed at 15. Two months after being paroled, he murdered both his parents. 

Kenneth McDuff (example 7, section three) committed a rape and three murders when he was 20. He was paroled after 23 yeas. He then went on to kidnap, rape, and murder up to seven women.

Arthur Shawcross (example 17, section three) raped and murdered two children, ages eight and 10. He was paroled after 15 years in prison. He then went on to rape and murder 12 women.

It is not always easy to know whether a criminal is still dangerous. Just because they are a model inmate does not mean they are safe to release into society. They may be capable of behaving well in prison but not in society. Or they may only be behaving well in prison to manipulate the system and gain early release. There are many cases of criminals being released from prison because of good behavior and then re-offending. For example, John McRae (example 21, section one) was given a life sentence for the torture and murder of an eight-year-old boy. McRae, who was 15 at the time of the crime, was believed to pose a low risk because of his exemplary prison record. His sentence was commuted and he went on to brutally murder at least one other boy.  

I will also address the idea that it is safe to release criminals once they have “aged out of crime.” It is true that most offenders do commit less crime with age. But there are some who will always remain dangerous. For example, Albert Flick (example 35, section three) murdered his wife, a crime for which he received 25 years in prison. He was released but sent back to prison for assaulting another woman. The judge case ignored the recommendation of prosecutors that he be given a longer sentence, arguing that he was too old to be dangerous. After being released Flick murdered another woman. Another example is Anthony Pardon (example 15, section one). When Pardon was 14, he raped an eight-year-old girl. When he was 15, he raped a nine-month-old baby boy. He was convicted of the second rape as a juvenile. At age 16, in 1981, he kidnapped, raped, and attempted to murder a woman. He was sentenced to five to 25 years in prison and was released after 25 years only to be sent back to prison for nine years for forgery. He was released from the forgery prison sentence in 2017 and went on to invade a woman’s home, and kidnap, rape, torture, and murder her. He was in his 50s when he committed the second murder.

SB 256 would traumatize victims

The vast majority of victims who lose loved ones to aggravated murder oppose the release of the killers. They do not want the murderers to enjoy the very freedom they robbed from their family members. They feel obligated to fight release and to be a voice for their dead family members who cannot speak for themselves. To fight the potential injustice of parole, they will speak up at parole hearings. The parole process forces victims to relive the murders. Unsurprisingly, murder victims’ families suffer severe health problems such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. These conditions flare up whenever they have to re-engage with the murderer and relive the crime. The victims suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms. For victims who have healed and moved on somewhat since the murders, their progress is undone by the parole process. Even though participating in parole hearings is painful, it is less painful than the killer’s release would be. 

The torment SB 256 would inflict on victims would be even worse due to its retroactivity. Victims of criminals whose sentences are retroactively reduced would have to endure parole processes that they never planned for. Victims walk away from life and long sentences believing that their ordeals with the justice system are largely over. They do not emotionally prepare for the parole process. And when news of an upcoming parole hearing is unexpected victims are left shocked. This shock increases the already horrific trauma. Victims who believe they will never have to endure the parole process also do not make other preparations, such as signing up for victims notification or keeping necessary records. This makes it harder to fight parole.

Some juvenile crimes warrant life without parole 

Advocates of SB 256 argue that no crime committed by a juvenile can ever warrant life without parole. They attempt to portray all juvenile crimes as simply being the results of poor decisions made due to under-developed brains. Their claims are absurd. As victims whose family members were murdered by juveniles, we have been forced to recognize the brutal reality that some juveniles commit astonishingly horrific crimes with full knowledge of their consequences. There are, without a doubt, juvenile crimes that reflect depravity and cruelty rather than immature brains. I will list just two examples.

Johnny Freeman enticed five-year-old Shavanna McCann with candy and lured her to a vacant apartment on the 14th floor of a housing project. Once in the apartment, Freeman, who was three months away from his 18th birthday, raped little Shavanna. Freeman then said he would throw out the trash and tried to kill Shavanna by throwing her out the 14th story window. But Shavanna was brave and held on to the window’s ledge with her fingertips. The terrified child 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. Freeman pried her fingers off the window ledge. This time Shavanna was not able to hold on to anything. The young child plunged 14 stories to her death on the hard ground below.

One morning, Sherry West decided to stroll her one-year-old son Antonio Santiago to the post office. As they returned home, they were confronted by two youths.  The older youth, 17-year-old De’ Marquise Elkins, pointed a gun at Sherry and demanded money. But Sherry had none to give him. Elkins then threatened to kill Antonio. Sherry begged the robber not to kill her baby. But her pleas for mercy were callously disregarded. Elkins shot Sherry in the leg before turning the gun on Baby Antonio. Sherry tried to cover her son, but the end came anyway for Antonio. Elkins shot him in between the eyes at point-blank range, murdering the infant execution-style.

These crimes were not mistakes made due to underdeveloped brains. They were evil acts committed by criminals who were fully aware of the consequences and who acted with callous disregard for the victims’ lives.  The idea that a 17-year-old does not fully understand the wrongfulness of crimes like these is asinine. Life without parole is not disproportionate to these crimes and to suggest that it is absurd.

Under SB 256, a juvenile who commits murders like these would be required to be eligible for parole after 25 years.

SB 256 is based on the flawed idea that juveniles are categorically less culpable

Juvenile murderer advocates argue that juveniles are categorically less culpable because they are generally more as impulsive, immature, irresponsible, susceptible to peer pressure, and the poor at assessing risks. NOVJM does not deny that juveniles generally display these traits. But juveniles are a large group and not all are the same. Many juvenile crimes do not involve these hallmarks of youth. One example is Daniel Marsh. Marsh, 15, invaded the home of Chip Northup, 87, and Claudia Maupin, 76. He stabbed the elderly couple to death and then disemboweled and dissected their bodies. He extensively planned the crime, wearing all black and wearing tape on his shoes so as to not leave footprints. He later described the murders as giving him the most enjoyable feeling he had ever experienced, which was heightened when the victims were conscious and resisting.

In this cases, and in many others, the hallmark traits of youth, such as impulsivity, immaturity, failure to appreciate risks, and susceptibility to peer pressure, did not apply. Marsh acted alone.  He did not fail to assess the risks and consequences of their crimes. In fact, the murders of Claudia and Chip were thrill killings. Marsh committed these murders specifically because of the consequences and the thrills and pleasure he derived from them. The murders were also planned, calculated, and mature. The trial court noted that his crime was a “highly sophisticated, extraordinary and rare crime even for the most hardened and seasoned adult criminal.” Marsh thoroughly researched how to commit the murders without getting caught. There was no DNA, footprints, or any other type of evidence at the crime scene. Had Marsh not bragged about the murders, he would never have been caught. To reduce a killer’s sentence because of the general traits of people in their age group even though none of those traits apply to them is absurd.

I will also note that even when a juvenile offender does display youthful traits, they still may be fully culpable if they are able to understand the nature of the crime and if their actions are fully voluntary.

Conclusion

SB 256 would do a lot of harm. It would deny justice by requiring grossly lenient sentences; it would allow dangerous criminals to be released, putting Ohioans in danger; and it would traumatize victims. Whereas there are many disadvantages to this bill, there are no benefits to allowing release for depraved and dangerous criminals. We strongly urge you to put the safety of society and the well-being of victims above the release of evil criminals.