Missouri lawmakers have an important opportunity to bring relief to families of murder victims. The legislature is currently considering a bill that would clarify Missouri’s laws regarding sentences for murderers who were under the age of 18 when they committed their crimes.
“I am urging the legislature to do the right thing and pass Senate Bill 200,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer M. Joyce. “Families whose loved ones were murdered are suffering waiting for legislation like this to pass.”
Families like that of Gina Stallis. Stallis was murdered in 2009 by Mario Coleman and Ledale Nathan. Coleman was an adult, but Nathan was 16 at the time of the crime. Nathan was certified as an adult to stand trial. Both were convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During Nathan’s appeals process, the US Supreme Court made a ruling regarding automatic and mandatory life sentences without the possibility for parole for juvenile offenders (offenders under the age of 18). The court said that juries must weigh whether that sentence was “just and appropriate.”
In Missouri, there is currently no other sentencing option for juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder, except life without the possibility for parole.
Without clarity from the Legislature, Gina Stallis’ family was worried Nathan might someday walk free. They had no choice but to relive the night of terror they experienced, as the court re-heard the terrifying details Nathan’s case years after the incident occurred. A jury resentenced him life in prison, with a remote possibility for parole.
For several sessions, the Missouri Legislature has had the ability to bring clarity to Missouri families by bringing Missouri’s law in accordance with the Constitution. So far, they have failed to act.
Now, SB 200 could be the clarity for which prosecutors and families have been seeking.
It proposed the following: juveniles who are over the age of 16 at the time they commit murder may be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or a minimum of 50 years in prison. Juvenile who are under the age of 16 may be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or a minimum of 35 years in prison. A jury, in either case, would have to decide if life in prison without the possibility of parole is “just and appropriate” in a sentencing hearing that would immediately follow a trial. This phase would hear aggravating and mitigating factors.
Other sentencing options are also available if offenders are found guilty on lesser charges.
“It is vital that lawmakers pass this bill with an emergency clause,” said Circuit Attorney Joyce. “Families of murder victims deserve to know exactly what sentencing options murderers will face.”
For the exact wording and to track SB200, click here: http://www.senate.mo.gov/15info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=869240