Sponsor shelves bill to change lifelong prison sentences for juveniles in Colorado

DENVER - Colorado lawmakers are struggling to bring balance to the state's juvenile sentencing laws.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences for juveniles, without the possibility of parole, were unconstitutional.

On Thursday, Rep. Daniel Kagan indefinitely postponed his proposal that would have allowed the possibility of parole to juveniles who'd served 20 years of a life sentence.

The lawmaker said there was mounting opposition to House Bill 1292, and he didn't have the support he initially thought was there.

The Arapahoe County Democrat said his bill was intended to solve a problem.

"The problem," he said, "is that 48 people, now in their 30s, are being cruelly and unusually punished, according to the United States Supreme Court.

Kagan said he had bipartisan support for his bill, but that people on both sides "started getting cold feet" on Thursday morning.

Much of the opposition came from families whose loved one were killed by juveniles.

Barbara Caster's family had planned to speak in opposition to Kagan's bill.

Caster was a 76-year old Brighton woman, who was kidnapped from a parking lot in November of 1996, chained to concrete blocks and left to die in a rural Adams County field.

Her sons told 7NEWS that the killers, 17-year old Antonio Scott Ferrell and 16-year old Kevin Blankenship "should never be out on the streets again after what they did our mom."

Ferrell and Blankenship were sentenced to life plus 56 years.

Walter and Margaret Medla also oppose Kagan's bill.

Their grandson, Greg Medla, and daughter-in-law, Penny Bowman, were victims of mass murderer Alex Pogosyan. 

Prosecutors said Pogosyan and his friend, Michael Martinez, went on a murderous rampage in Sept. 1998, and that revenge was the motive.

They said he killed five people who he believed had snitched on him. 

Eddie Morales, Jr. and Zach Obert were both found dead in a house in Aurora.  Marissa Avalos, Bowman and her son, Greg, were found shot to death in another home nearby.

Several hours later, Martinez was found shot to death near Park Meadows Mall. Pogosyan was suspected in that killing, but was never charged.

He was sentenced to five consecutive life terms for the mass murders and to an additional six years for being an accessory to crime.

In a letter to lawmakers, Mr. and Mrs. Medla wrote, "There is absolutely no way that this so-called human being should ever be let out of prison, EVER!!!...  not only did he destroy those five lovely people by giving them their 'death sentence,' but also their families, like ours, will never be the same."

Some victims have a different viewpoint.

Sharletta Evans said she was going to speak in favor of Kagan's bill, until it was tabled.

Her 3-year old son, Casson Xavier Evans, was killed on Dec. 21, 1995 in a drive by shooting in Park Hill.

"I believe in second chances for juvenile lifers," she told 7NEWS.

Evans said she met with her son's killer, Raymond Johnson, who was just 14 years old when he fired the shot that killed Casson.

"We did a restorative justice dialogue," she said. "He was very remorseful, accountable and willing to repair the harm.  He addressed all the things that a mother would want to hear from someone that caused her harm."

"It's a difficult issue," said Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth. "We're trying to balance the emotions of family members, victims and the offenders who were sentenced.

He said most of the juvenile "life without parole" sentences in Colorado, were handed down in the 1990s, before the Supreme Court ruled that that type of sentence was unconstitutional.

"I think today, what you saw without a bill being passed, is that we've managed to advance the conversation and we've managed to get to a place where I think negotiations will occur," he said.  "But other things will continue to happen and we'll probably be back next year."

Dore said the initial Supreme Court ruling didn't address whether state laws should be "retroactive" and cover cases that have already been settled.

"We don't want to reopen old wounds," he said.

Dore added that lawmakers learned today that the high court is going to deal with another juvenile sentencing case, one that may address retroactive applicability. 

Kagan says it's an issue that needs to be addressed, and he may not wait for the Supreme Court.  He said he may craft another bill for introduction before the end of this session.

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