Louisiana bill could allow juveniles sentenced to life in prison eligible for parole; families of victims outraged
A bill proposed by a Baton Rouge republican senator that would make all inmates who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles eligible for parole after 30 years is creating waves here in the Central Louisiana law enforcement, legal community, and mostly for families of victims.
Many here are furious about the bill, including the family of an elderly woman who was brutally murdered by nine young men in 1994. Three of those nine convicted were juveniles at the time. They're approaching 30 years in prison. And, if this bill passes, there's a chance they could be paroled.
"We put a lot of faith in the justice system, and the justice system has let us down," said Sharon Yarbrough, niece of Rita Rabalais.
It has been more than 20 years and Rita Rabalais' family said they feel like they can't get any closure after they found her brutally beaten and stabbed to death.
"It’s been horrific,” expressed Yarbrough. “I've had to go through counseling. My daughter has had to go through counseling."
It’s because of Louisiana Senate Bill 16 which has recently surfaced. This bill could allow some of the men responsible out of jail.
"It seems that nowadays the criminals have all the rights and the victims have none," said Yarbrough.
82-year-old Rabalais was murdered by nine young men in 1994 at her home on Kelly Street in Alexandria. Three of the nine convicted were juveniles.
Joseph Green, 15, and Daveon McCullough, 17, were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Cedric Howard, 16, was convicted of first degree murder and sent to death row, but that sentence was overturned to life without parole.
"You can't say it was a spur of the moment thing; that they didn't know what they were doing,” said Yarbrough. “It was planned out, and it was planned out to the detail."
This case has already been brought into light after the US Supreme Court ruled last year that prisoners who are serving life sentences for murders committed when they were teens should have the chance for parole.
"The Supreme Court also says in that ruling, the more heinous the crime, then they can still be held with life without parole," explained Yarbrough.
Now Louisiana SB 16, authored by Republican State Senator Dan Claitor of the 16th District in Baton Rouge, said that "Any person serving a sentence of life imprisonment for a conviction of first degree murder or second degree murder shall be eligible for parole after 30 years."
But there is lengthy list of requirements to qualify.
Part of the conditions are that those imprisoned have good behavior and go through rehab programs. SB 16 is backed by the governor. It cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when it passed the Senate Judiciary C Committee and its now on its way to the full Senate.
Sen. Claitor said this bill is needed because the US Supreme Court ruled that the state must comply. He left this message to families who feel like they're being wronged.
"I believe it's wrong on our part to believe every family will oppose it,” said Sen. Claitor. “And I believe it's wrong on our part to believe every family will be for it."
According to the Advocate, there are currently 300 inmates in Louisiana who were sentenced to life in prison while they were juveniles, 89 of them have already served 30 years.
Some law enforcement is angry about the bill.
"I don't care whether he is 14-year-old or 60-years-old,” said Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton. “When you commit some of the crimes that these juveniles commit, they don't need any breaks.”
The Sheriff's Association even opposed the bill.
"It will be debated on the floor,” explained Sheriff Hilton. “I don't think it will be a breeze to go through."
However, Sen. Claitor believes that the list of requirements will assure that only those who are rehabilitated could be eligible for parole.
"If a possibility of parole is granted, that does not mean that the worst of the worst will be turned out on the street,” explained Sen. Claitor. “The worst of the worst will remain and die in prison."
Rabalais’ family hopes Sen. Claitor and the Senate will take time to listen before casting their vote in favor of the bill.
"I would like to remind him to just find justice for these victims and their families,” expressed Melissa Phillips, great-niece of Rita Rabalais. “That's what's important in our case. Let there be justice for the victims."
For a look at SB 16, check out the attached link.