HB 3919 Letter to House Committe

NOVJM has written this letter to the House Judiciary Committee

https://www.scstatehouse.gov/CommitteeInfo/HouseEquitableJustice/Sentencing%20Reform%20Letter%20-%20NOVJM.pdf

Dear South Carolina House

We are the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM)
(http://www.teenkillers.org/). NOVJM is dedicated to helping those whose family members
were murdered by juveniles under 18. We represent hundreds of victims’ families
around the country who have lost loved ones to juvenile murderers. NOVJM does not
take positions on how specific offenders should be sentenced. We support the victims’
families’ voices. But we do believe that justice is best served by giving courts the most
sentencing options possible to deal with the wide range of offenders and crimes that
they face, up to and including life sentences. A wider range of sentencing options
prioritizes public safety against offenders who may always remain dangerous, as
psychologically we do see sometimes.


And the availability of longer sentences, where appropriate, allows victims’ families to
experience some sense of justice and a sense of legal finality, especially when the
sentencing options keep frequent re-traumatizing parole hearings to an absolute
minimum. Victims’ families suffer staggering life and health problems when having to
re-engage with those who murdered their loved ones.

NOVJM opposes HB 3919 because it would unnecessarily re-traumatize victims. Victims
would be forced to endure agonizing parole hearings. Furthermore, because of the bill’s
retroactivity, many victims were never planning on or building these parole hearings
into their lives, increasing the traumatic impact. Victims often walk away from long
term and life sentences given to their loved ones’ murderers believing that their ordeals
with the criminal justice system are largely over. They do not make the preparations
necessary for parole hearings. They often don’t even register for victim notification, and then become lost to the record-keeping of the court. We believe that retroactively
reducing criminal sentences raises serious legal issues with regards to Victims’ Rights.
Additionally, there is the issue of fairness. There are some crimes committed by
juveniles that may warrant long term or life sentences due to the extreme depravity and
cruelty involved. For example:


 In South Carolina, a juvenile male kidnapped, raped, asphyxiated, and murdered
eight-year-old Dhymia Woody. http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/southcarolina-victims/dhymia-woody/


 In the neighboring state of Georgia, a 17-year-old male and his 15-year-old
accomplice attempted to rob a woman as she strolled her one-year-old son
Antonio Santiago. When the mother did not comply with the robbers’ demands to
give them her purse, the 17-year-old shot and injured her. He then intentionally
shot baby Antonio in the face and killed him.
http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/georgia-victims/antonio-santiago/


 In the neighboring state of North Carolina, two men, one of whom was 17,
kidnapped 22-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson at
gunpoint. They held her captive at gunpoint for several hours, driving her to
ATMs where they made her withdraw money and robbed her. During the ordeal,
Eve tried to reason with her captors and begged for her life. But they showed no
mercy and murdered her to eliminate her as a witness. When Eve realized that
the kidnappers were about to kill her she made one last plea for her life, asking
them to “pray with me.” But neither captor was moved by the terrified young woman’s pleas. They executed Eve with a .25 caliber handgun and a sawed-off shotgun and left her body in the street.
http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/north-carolina-victims/eve-carson/


In Arkansas, a young man, age 17 and nine months, and his 18-year-old partner
robbed a grocery store and attempted to murder everyone inside. The 17-year-old
shot and stabbed 12-year-old Robin Richardson to death while his partner shot
Robin’s mother Hazel in the neck and attempted to murder her.
http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/arkansas-victims/robin-richardson/


In Chicago, Illinois, a 17-year-old male lured five-year-old Shavanna McCann to a
vacant 14th-floor apartment in a housing project. There, he raped the child and
then tried to kill her by throwing her out the window. Shavanna was brave and
managed to hold on to the edge of the window. Terrified, Shavanna dangled 14
stories above the ground and screamed for her mother. But the assailant showed
no mercy for the frightened child. He shoved her again. This time Shavanna could
not hold on to anything and plunged 14 stories to her death.
http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/memorials/illinois-victims/shavanna-mccann/


Many more examples of shockingly hideous crimes committed by juveniles are listed on
our website.


We are not advocating for specific sentences for these criminals. Rather, we are
illustrating the depraved nature of many crimes committed by juveniles. These are not
youthful indiscretions. These are not childhood mistakes. These are cold-blooded highly
aggravated murders committed by offenders who understood what they were doing.

And finally, there is the issue of safety. Unfortunately, there are some people who, for
whatever reason, will always pose a risk to society. Some are diagnosed psychopaths or
sociopaths. Psychopathy and sociopathy are incurable conditions characterized by a lack
of remorse or empathy. Some of these offenders have been sentenced for crimes they
committed when they were under 18. One might say parole boards can just avoid
releasing dangerous criminals. But it is not that simple. Parole boards and judges often
make mistakes and release extremely dangerous criminals into society. In fact, studies
show that psychopaths are 2.5 times more likely to be granted conditional release than
non-psychopaths due to their skills at manipulating.
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1348/135532508X284310 As of now, on our
Dangerous Early Release page, NOVJM has documented over 70 examples of
offenders, including many juvenile offenders, being given “second chances”, so to speak-
-being paroled early from prison, being given light sentences in juvenile court, etc.-and going on to commit more violent crimes in society.
http://www.teenkillers.org/index.php/myths-about-the-juvenile-lifesentence/dangerous-early-release/


One example is that of Kenneth McDuff (example 7 in the Other Dangerous Releases
category). He was 20 when he committed an especially frightening and horrific triple
murder. One summer night in 1966 he kidnapped three teenagers, two boys, and one
girl. He shot both boys to death. He raped the female victim and strangled her to death
with a broomstick. McDuff was paroled 23 years later and went on to kidnap, rape, and
murder up to seven women.

We should also address the idea that it is safe to release criminals who have “aged-out”
of crime. Yes, most offenders commit less crime with age. But there are some who continue with their criminal conduct at advanced ages. For example, Albert Flick was in
his 70s when he stabbed a woman to death in front of her children after having been
released from prison because he was deemed “too old” to be a threat. He had previously
committed another similar murder, stabbing his wife to death in front of her daughter.

Thank you for considering NOVJM’s opposition to HB 3919. We respectfully ask that it
not be made law. We have never ceased to be horrified by the amount of money and the
huge advocacy effort that is being put into changing juvenile murderers’ sentences with
absolutely no effort to talk about or plan for how murder victims’ families, who have
already had to endure the worst experience of anyone’s lifetime, will cope. We are
shocked by the fact that advocates of juvenile murderers leave us out in regard to
legislation that will profoundly affect our well-being and lives for decades to come. We
stand ready to offer victim family testimony, research from the scientific community,
and strategies that have worked well to balance the concerns of criminal justice reform
with those of public safety and victim re-traumatization. We deeply appreciate your
consideration of the needs of the victims’ families in at least EQUAL force that you
consider the requirements of justice for those who killed our loved ones.

Sincerely,


NOVJM