Law would overturn life sentences for 48 juveniles convicted of murder
Three state lawmakers are hoping to overturn the life sentences of 48 juveniles who were tried as adults and convicted of murder.
The bill, which is to be heard in a House committee this week, would allow those juveniles, who are now adults, to become eligible for parole after they’ve served 40 years of their life terms.
Reps. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, and Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, said the measure is a matter of fairness.
Five years ago, Colorado changed the law and allowed subsequent juveniles convicted of murder in adult court to be eligible for parole after 40 years.
“They were kids when they did what they did, and they shouldn’t be held to the same standards as adults,” Levy said. “We’ve treated them exactly like adults, and they should get a second chance, or at least an opportunity at a second chance.”
Where is that written, asked Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.
To him, the juveniles committed crimes as heinous as any committed by adults with life sentences, and they deserve to be segregated from the rest of society.
“There is a fundamental, profound difference when we try to go back and rewrite history,” Hautzinger said. “On all 48 cases, victims were told this is what the law is, this is what the sentence is going to be. These are the choices the defendant has to make. To now go back and say, ‘Oh, never mind. None of that counted.’ I think that’s outrageous.”
Hautzinger said the state’s district attorneys thought this issue was settled in 2006 when they agreed to allow future murder cases of juveniles tried as adults to be eligible for parole in four decades.
So trying to make that retroactive to cases before that time is not only unfair to the families, but unconstitutional, he said.
Besides, he said, just because some of these juveniles were underage when they committed their crimes doesn’t mean their sentences would have been any different had they been adults. That’s why they were tried as adults in the first place, he said.
As a case in point, Hautzinger pointed to the 1996 murder of Janet and Jennifer Davis, the only Mesa County case among the 48.
That was when Verle James Mangum, then 17 and high on methamphetamine, bludgeoned 42-year-old Janet Davis with a baseball bat when she caught him having sex with her 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer.
“Then he goes back into the bedroom and bludgeons the 11-year-old to death because she might be a witness against him,” Hautzinger said. “That’s not somebody I’d want out after 40 years regardless of how old he is.”
Others on the list, whose convictions date as far back as 1992, include juveniles who committed gang-related shootings, or killed someone during a robbery or carjacking. One shot a Colorado State Patrol trooper during a traffic stop.
Levy, too, said it is a fairness issue, but not in the same way Hautzinger means. She said because of that 2006 law, the juveniles on the list have been given sentences stricter than some adults convicted of similar crimes.
“We’ve got these 48 kids who were sentenced between 1992 and 2006, and they’re no different than anyone sentenced before or after, so this is just a fairness issue,” Levy said. “These juveniles are being treated more harshly than adults who committed worse crimes.”