HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Connecticut has repealed the death penalty and now it must change the law that allows minors to be sentenced as adults when they commit violent crimes.
A more than three-year-old federal court ruling says Connecticut must make the change so that people convicted when they were under age 18 can have a chance at parole, no matter how serious the crime.
There are many examples of young offenders that changed their ways and became productive members of society. The highest court in the land says all of these youthful offenders deserve a “second look.”
There are currently about 16,100 prisoners in the Connecticut Correction System. About 250 are prisoners sent to jail for crimes they committed when they were under age 18. Some were as young as 14 when they committed those crimes and were sentenced as adults in many cases, without the possibility of parole. But, that has to change because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s illegal, saying people at that age are not fully developed mentally and deserve the opportunity to receive the review of their cases through parole at some point, a “second look.”
Willie Ledbetter wants the legislature to make the change. His 14-year-old daughter was sentenced to 50 years without parole for the murder of a cab driver in 1996. She says her boyfriend committed the murder. He is also in prison.
“I feel bad for the victim’s family, but she’s been locked up for 19 years. She deserves another opportunity,” said Mr. Ledbetter. “I’ve got everything prepared for her when she does come home.”
Despite the ruling from the high court, this change in law has failed to pass the State Senate the past two years. People like Mike Clarke are the reason. He was beaten, shot in the head, and left for dead by two 17-year-olds attempting to steal his car. One of them was also convicted of murder in another case. They are both serving life without parole.
“They are evil people, they should never, at least one of them, should never ever be out of prison,” said Clarke.
As recently as last Friday, the State Supreme Court ruled in one of these cases that the defendant must have a new sentence phase of his trial. Without a change in state law, the Chief State’s Attorney says it could be just a matter of time before they let one of them walk.
“We run the risk of some defendant, could theoretically, walk out the door without any supervision,” said Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane. “The amendment to the statute wold at least allow courts to allow somebody to go on parole for the balance of the sentence.”
More than half of these once youthful offenders have filed legal actions, saying their rights under the U.S. Supreme Court decision are being violated.
At least 15 states have already passed these so-called “second look” laws.