Bill to resentence juvenile lifers passes hurdle

Posted at 8:18 AM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 10:49:39-04

A bill to overhaul the sentences of 48 inmates who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without parole is headed to the Senate floor.

It passed committee in a 3 to 2 vote Wednesday after several amendments.

Passionate testimony flooded Colorado's Capitol during the four-hour committee hearing.

"I just always hoped that 'life without parole' weren't hollow words," testified Susan Moran, whose husband, Denver officer Shawn Leinen was gunned down by a juvenile in 1995.

Colorado is one of 29 states revamping its laws after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sentencing juveniles to life in prison is unconstitutional.  In Iowa, the governor commuted the sentences for juvenile lifers to 60 years.  West Virginia took one of the most liberal stances, making them eligible for parole after 15 years.  In Kansas that magic number is 25 years. 

Senate Bill 181 would make juvenile lifers eligible for parole after 40 years, with time earned. 

The bill was amended Wednesday getting rid of the 24 to 48 year option.  Now, only inmates convicted of felony murder would qualify for a 30 to 50 year sentence in cases of extreme mitigating factors. 

The bill also excludes sex offenders and the severely mentally ill.

"If you met my father, you would know he deserves a second chance.  He is remorseful for what he did," said Davena Frazzini, who's never known her father outside prison walls.

For others, like Arthur Williams, whose cousin was murdered in the '90s, no amount of time will heal the gaping hole that's left.

"The one that took this person away from me, he can just stay right where he's at," said Arthur Williams.

The family of Jessica Ridgeway also attended the hearing but chose not to testify.  Jefferson County District Attorney, Peter Weir, expressed concerned the bill would give killers like Austin Sigg, who was just 17 when he killed Ridgeway, a shot at freedom. 

Proponents of the bill argued Sigg wouldn't qualify for parole because he's a sex offender.  He's also serving so many consecutive life sentences, he would likely never see the light of day.