48 juvenile killers lose possibility of parole

DENVER — A House committee killed a bill Tuesday that would have provided the possibility of parole to 48 Colorado prison inmates who are serving life terms for murders they committed as juveniles.

They stood trial as adults, and their sentences were life without the possibility of parole.

Partly because of emotional testimony from numerous family members of the victims of those murders, the House Judiciary Committee voted 6–5 against the bill.  The six members who voted to halt the measure said a promise was made to family members that the murderers would never be free, and that they were not going to break that promise.

“Fourteen years, five months and 29 days ago, four individuals from Colorado Springs came to Trinidad, they beat our son until he was incapacitated, they took him to a creek, and they drowned him, where he laid for four days and five nights, all for the use of his car,” said Raymond Castillo, whose 18-year-old son, Shawn, was killed in 1996.

“Everybody on holidays, they come, they visit, they get their families together. … I’d like to show you where we have to go celebrate our Christmases,” Castillo told the committee, holding up a picture of his son’s grave. “That’s where we celebrate.”

The measure, introduced by Republican Rep. B.J. Nikkel of Loveland and Democratic Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder, was designed to make the sentences of juveniles who were tried as adults match current law, which allows underage defendants convicted of first-degree murder to be eligible for parole after serving 40 years of their prison terms.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office has said the bill likely would be unconstitutional. Numerous district attorneys around the state were more certain in their testimony: It would be tossed by the courts.

“This bill is unconstitutional on its face as it violates the separation of powers allowing the Legislature to improperly usurp the power of commutation expressly reserved to the governor,” said Thomas Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. “Changing a sentence from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole clearly creates a lesser sentence, and the only person who can do that in the state of Colorado is the governor once that conviction is final, and all of these convictions are final.”

Levy, Nikkel and one of their witnesses, however, testified that the bill would not mean a reduction of the sentences. Even if the inmates, who now are all adults, became eligible for parole, there would be no guarantee they would be released. Plus, they would be monitored by the parole system, which is controlled by the governor, they said.

“The subjects are released to the parole board, which is an arm of the executive (branch) ... thus the executive department would continue to have exclusive authority over release of these prisoners,” said Cory Helton, a second-year law student at the University of Denver School of Law. “It does not shorten the sentence because they remain under the control of the Colorado Department of Corrections.”

Among the 48 juveniles serving life sentences in Colorado prisons are gang members involved in drive-by shootings, numerous 17-year-olds who killed people while committing burglaries or carjackings, and one who killed a Colorado State Patrol trooper during a routine traffic stop.

The juveniles also include a man convicted in a Mesa County case. In 2003, Verle Mangum was sentenced to life without parole in the 1996 beating deaths of Janet Davis and her 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer.

Though Mangum was 23 at the time of his sentencing, he was only 17 when he committed the murders. Regardless, he was tried as an adult.

Raynes said of those 48 defendants, 16 have co-defendants who also are serving life sentences, 18 killed more than one person during the course of the crimes they were sentenced for, nine committed separate murders, and 16 were within six months of turning 18 years old.


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