GATESVILLE, TEXAS – According to reports from the Star-Telegram, 12 Texas inmates are locked up in jail for completing the juvenile life sentence that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional because the age of the inmates was less than 18 years when they committed the crimes.
Last year, the court announced to implement its 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life sentencing without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide. A lot of states worked to resentence the offenders to parole-eligible terms.
According to Jason Clark, the Department of Criminal Justice spokesman, if the inmates succeed before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, their sentences will be dismissed and new punishment hearings will be ordered.
Mandy Miller is one of the lawyers representing those inmates. He is handling the case of 3 inmates who committed crimes before they were 18-year-old. One of his clients is 27-year-old now who was just 15-year-old when he committed the crime. He was involved in beating and burning a 19-year-old man who died on the spot.
Back in 2009, a bill was passed by the State lawmakers that banned life without parole for offenders aged 16 years and younger. The rule was implemented for 17-year-old as well after 4 years. Under the law, a life sentence with the opportunity for parole after 40 years for juveniles who commit certain crimes has been made mandatory.
A bill with the name of “Second Look” will make the inmates eligible for release after serving 20 years in prison. The bill didn’t pass.
It is said that almost 2 thousand inmates who were involved in crimes when they were in their teenage years will be qualified for parole soon. The number of inmates who will be eligible for parole in 2018 is nearly sixteen hundred.
One of the inmates completing his sentence is Larry Robinson’s son. He started crying while communicating with the legislative committee about the things that weren’t considered when his son Jason was sentenced for life with the possibility of parole.
Earlier this year, Robinson broke down in tears as he told a legislative committee all the things that weren’t considered when his son Jason was sentenced. He talked about his deployment during Operation Desert Storm, physical abuse from a relative, drug addiction issue, suicidal thoughts, and visits to the psychologists. He added, “The sentencing … was the worst day. It’s like the life just came out of me. I just kept blaming myself, saying that it was my fault.”
In 1994, Jason was 16-year-old when he robbed the 19th Hole Pawn Shop in Killeen with 2 of his friends. Clerk Troy Langseth was their victim. They closed his mouth with the help of duct tape and one of the teenagers stabbed him many times. They stole 17 guns and the store’s security videotape.
Jason will turn 40-year-old this year. He was interviewed in which he told about the bad decision he took when he was a teenager. He told that his friends had marijuana when they got involved in the robbery case.
The clerk was 24-year-old when he was killed. He was tall with curly hair and his personality was dashing.
Jason added, “It doesn’t seem real that you can make a decision that takes five minutes to make, and it can affect everyone’s lives … even 23 years later. I know sorry is not good enough. I wish things were different.”. This clearly indicates that the youth may not know how long a juvenile life sentence is.
He knows it well what he stole from the clerk; a chance of living. He is not living a good life because of his bad decision. He never enjoyed his life. He has never been on a real date, never walked across a stage to graduate. He got 2 degrees while in jail, which didn’t make him happy.
He further said, “I live with knowing what happened and the consequences of our actions. I feel like I’m running out of time.”
The brother of the clerk, Mark Langseth, was 21-year-old when his brother was killed. He thinks that the offender should fulfill the sentence for his crime. He added, “When you are 16, or even 15, every person … that walks the face of the planet understands that there are consequences. Jason’s actually lucky in a way that he at least gets to keep on living. My brother doesn’t get that opportunity.”
Those who are in favor of alteration in the Texas juvenile sentencing laws said that a life sentence, even with the possibility of parole, means individuals serving jail time, such as Robinson, may never be released.
Lawyer Elizabeth Henneke is handling Robinson’s case. She established the Lone Star Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that will contest trying juveniles in adult court, sentencing them to long prison terms. She wants to discuss the problems due to which minors get involved in crimes.
Murff Bledsoe is an adjunct faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law. He believes that there is validity in arguments that juveniles lack the same maturity and brain development as adults due to which they get involved in reckless acts.
According to Bledsoe, he will be in favor of any bill that alters the law, but for future offenders, not for those who are already in jail for their crime. He added, “I think that in a case like this, where this family has suffered the ultimate of losing a loved one under terrible circumstances, to then go back and take away from them the certainty of what they were told, I don’t agree with that.”