Victim: Rebecca Lynn “Becky” Stowe, 15
Murderer: Robert Leamon III, 16
Crime date: July 13, 1993
Crime location: Jones, Cass County, Michigan
The crime: Angry after Stowe told him she was pregnant by him and would not get an abortion, Leamon, of Niles, took Stowe to a farm in Cass County, where he broke her neck and buried her.
- By Mary Beth Spalding South Bend Tribune
- Jul 31, 2019
CASSOPOLIS — No one disputes who killed 15-year-old Niles resident Rebecca Lynn Stowe in 1993, or that it was an awful crime.
The killer told police he had planned it out, digging a hole in advance to bury the teen’s body, which wasn’t discovered for more than two years.
Since 1997, Robert Eugene Leamon III has been serving a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first degree murder he committed when he was 16.
The questions before a Cass County court now — more than 20 years later — is whether he should be eligible for parole because he was a juvenile when he killed Stowe and whether he has been or can be rehabilitated.
At a resentencing hearing this morning, if the judge favors an argument for rehabilitation, Leamon could be given a more specific prison term of years and move toward release.
Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said both his office and the family oppose any possibility Leamon could be set free.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2012 it’s unconstitutional, except in rare cases with no likelihood of rehabilitation, to sentence a juvenile murder defendant to life in prison without a chance for parole. Many states in recent years have been revisiting cases of so-called “juvenile lifers.”
Michigan is one of them. An Associated Press analysis in 2017 found Michigan had one of the highest numbers of juvenile lifers at 363. Pennsylvania had the highest number at 517, the AP found. Indiana had five juvenile lifers.
“We’ve definitely been in communication with the family and their position, and the position of our office, is that the mandatory life sentence should be retained and that’s what we’re pursuing,” Fitz said.
Fitz described the crime that gripped the area in the middle 1990s as “gruesome.”
Stowe, whom friends and family just called “Becky,” was last seen alive on July 13, 1993. Her skeletal remains were found buried under a wood pile on Oct. 5, 1995.
Police arrested Leamon, who investigators interpreted as passing a polygraph exam, after his girlfriend admitted Leamon confessed Stowe’s murder to her.
Stowe and Leamon were classmates at Brandywine High School and dated, according to past Tribune reports. When Leamon learned Stowe was pregnant, he planned to kill her and dug a hole on land in Cass County where his relative lived. He took Becky for a walk and then attacked her, later telling police he thought he had broken her neck before he buried her. A forensics expert testified Stowe likely died of strangulation.
“Every single one of these cases involves a terrible murder, a tragic loss of life and a devastated victim’s family. That cannot be questioned,” said Sofia Nelson of the Michigan State Appellate Defenders Office, who is representing Leamon.
The question, Nelson said, is whether Leamon is capable of rehabilitation.
Now at age 42, he is not the same person he was at 16, Nelson said. She said he is “deeply remorseful” and “has been rehabilitated, and no longer poses a risk to society.”
Both Fitz and Nelson are presenting arguments and calling witnesses to testify before Cass County Circuit Court Judge Mark Herman during a two-day bench proceeding scheduled for today and tomorrow.
Herman could decide to affirm the sentence of life in prison without parole, or he could choose to resentence Leamon to a term of years, roughly between a minimum of 25 and maximum of 60.
Leamon could be eligible for correctional credits, which would have to be calculated by the Department of Correction if he’s resentenced, according to Fitz and Nelson.
Fitz said there’s a potential Leamon “would be up for parole in short order.”
Nelson called that “speculative” and said even in a scenario most favorable to Leamon, the parole process could take many months.
A judge has denied continued life without parole and set resentencing for a man convicted in the 1993 murder of a Niles teen.
Robert Leamon will receive a new sentence with the opportunity for parole at 2 p.m. Jan. 30 in Cass County Circuit Court before Judge Mark Herman.
“It’s devastating,” said the victim’s sister, Cindy Slates, of Niles, about the judge’s decision. “It’s just devastating.”
Herman entered an order Monday denying the prosecutor’s motion to continue a life without parole sentence in the case.
Leamon was 16 when he murdered his Brandywine High School schoolmate, Rebecca Stowe, 15, of Niles.
He buried her body in Cass County, and the crime went unsolved for more than two years.
Leamon was convicted of premediated murder and automatically sentenced under state statute to mandatory life without parole.
Because he was a juvenile when he committed the murder, he is eligible for resentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.
Michigan courts are in the process of reviewing sentences for more than 360 juvenile life without parole offenders.
Leamon is one of 14 such offenders from cases originating in Berrien and Cass counties.
An initial two-day resentencing hearing was held for Leamon in August during which the judge heard arguments why Leamon should or should not receive a reduced sentence.
Slates, the victim’s closest surviving relative, testified at the August hearing that she felt life imprisonment was a fair sentence for her sister’s murder.
“The thought that Rob could be walking free while my sister’s bones still lie in the ground,” Slates said, trailing off. “It’s like there’s no respect for the dead, like her life was meaningless.”
The life without parole sentence had been “closure” for the family when it was handed down, but the resentencing process has reopened and added salt to old wounds, she said.
Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz expressed disappointment with the judge’s order denying a continuation of life without parole for Leamon.
“We respectfully disagree with the court, but the court has made its ruling,” Fitz said Thursday.
Fitz and Leamon’s attorney, Sofia Nelson, of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, will have the chance to argue for what they think Leamon’s new sentence should be.
Both declined Thursday to specify what new sentence they might seek.
In a statement, Nelson said, “The Judge’s opinion and order accurately reflects the law that children possess a diminished culpability for their actions and are capable of change. Because Mr. Leamon has changed, he is entitled to a second chance. We are pleased that Judge Herman recognizes Mr. Leamon’s rehabilitation.”
The judge could resentence Leamon to a minimum term of 25 to 40 years, or a maximum of 60 years.
Because Leamon was sentenced before Michigan’s truth in sentencing law, Fitz said, he is likely eligible for various credits that inmates no longer receive.
“There’s a strong possibility,” Fitz said, “he would be immediately eligible for parole consideration.”
Slates said she plans to attend the resentencing hearing, and she hopes Leamon receives a maximum sentence.
At the August hearing, Leamon said if he’s paroled, he plans to live with his mother and stepfather in Granger.
Slates said she dreads the thought of possibly bumping into him in a public place.
“I believe in karma,” Slates said. “Karma will get him somehow or another.”
- By Mary Beth Spalding South Bend Tribune
- Jan 31, 2020
CASSOPOLIS — Twenty-three years and a day after he was convicted in a Cass County courtroom of a crime that put him behind bars for life, a man from Niles received the chance for redemption he sought.
Robert Eugene Leamon III, 43, was resentenced Thursday by Cass County Circuit Court Judge Mark Herman to between 25 and 60 years, which carries possible parole eligibility in a year.
Leamon has been serving a mandatory sentence of life without parole for the 1993 premeditated murder of a Brandywine High School schoolmate he dated, Rebecca Lynn Stowe, 15, of Niles.
Leamon is among more than 360 so-called “juvenile lifers” in the state of Michigan receiving individualized resentencing consideration after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles unconstitutional, citing research that shows juvenile brains are not fully developed for adult decision-making.
He is one of 14 such offenders from cases originating in Berrien and Cass counties. His initial resentencing hearing was last summer, when Herman heard two days of arguments for and against a reduced sentence.
Family and friends of both Stowe and Leamon declined comment after the Thursday resentencing.
Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said he plans to appeal the new sentence, citing a concern for public safety.
“The family is highly disappointed,” Fitz said about the new sentence.
Fitz had sought a continuation of life without parole, which the judge earlier denied. On Thursday, Fitz asked for a sentence range of between 40 and 60 years. He was skeptical of Leamon’s rehabilitation and stressed the premeditation of the crime, as well as Leamon’s concealment of it for two years. Fitz said he was disappointed the judge gave a 25-year minimum, which could create an early parole opportunity.
Leamon has said he plans to live with his mother and stepfather in Granger if he is paroled.
Leamon’s attorney, Sofia Nelson, of the Michigan State Appellate Defender office, said parole “will take time.”
“This will be a process,” she said. “There is no Mr. Leamon coming home tomorrow, next week, in a few months.”
Nelson said she was “very pleased with the result” of the hearing, at which she had sought a new sentence of between 25 and 60 years. She pointed to evidence of Leamon’s rehabilitation through prison programs and a clean incarceration record. She said she “strongly believes Mr. Leamon is today is a responsible, compassionate, loving citizen.”
“I would be proud to have him as my neighbor,” Nelson told the court.
Cindy Slates, the victim’s sister and closest living relative, and Leamon also addressed the court Thursday.
Both read from prepared notes, their voices choking.
“When I was 16, I knew the difference between right and wrong, and I knew it was wrong to kill a human being,” Slates said.
“It does not matter if a person has changed or not, that person is forever responsible for his heinous crime …
“Please don’t dismiss my sister’s life,” she asked the judge.
Rebecca Stowe went missing in the summer of 1993. Her body was found more than two years later buried on a farm in Cass County. Leamon was convicted of killing Stowe by breaking her neck or strangling her and hiding her body on a relative’s property. He said he was angry after Stowe told him she was pregnant by him and refused to get an abortion. He was convicted of the crime Jan. 29, 1997, and sentenced about a month later.
Leamon apologized to Slates, her family and his own family for the suffering he’s caused.
“I can never make amends for the emotional loss and suffering I inflicted by killing Becky and lying about it for so long,” Leamon said. “I can only commit myself to be better, and learn and live to be of service to God and to others. …
“I seek redemption but know it has to be earned.”
Herman noted some people believe Leamon never should be freed, while others think he’s rehabilitated and ready for parole.
“I cannot base my decision on the extreme positions people wish me to take in this case,” he said.
The 25-year minimum he granted was no guarantee Leamon would be released at that time, Herman said.
“Whether the parole board determines you eligible prior to the date of your maximum sentence depends in large part on you,” Herman told Leamon. “I can give you the opportunity to prove yourself worthy. … My hope is that you will continue to improve your lot in life as you have shown in the last 24 years.”