Changing juvenile life sentences passes vote

Posted at 5:35 PM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-03 00:37:04-04

Hours after the State Senate voted to approve Senate Bill 181, several Colorado District Attorneys made a last ditch effort to derail it.  The legislation would provide sentencing guidelines for the 48 juvenile offenders sentenced between 1990 and 2006 who are serving life without parole in Colorado. 

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey held a picture of Jessica Ridgeway claiming the legislation would only help teens like the one who killed her.

"I'm here to ask the viewers, your viewers for a call to action," Morrissey said.  "The man that brutally murdered Jessica Ridgeway gets a fourth off of his life sentence just for sitting in the penitentiary," Morrissey said.

Under the bill, judges would review the sentences of the 48 cases. They could then resentence the offender to life in prison without parole after 40 years with time earned, or 30 to 50 years in prison in cases of felony murder with extreme mitigating factors.

Prosecutors and Colorado's Attorney Generals Office said the legislation has been rushed through and ignores victims' concerns.

"Shame on you legislature, shame on anybody who's sponsoring this bill," said Dan May, District Attorney for the 4th Judicial District.

Carrie Thompson, policy director for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said the DAs are pandering to people's fears.

"That's really an intentional misleading of the public," said Carrie Thompson, policy director for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.

Thompson said only 15 of the 48 offenders would qualify for the 30 to 50 year sentence option - and Ridgeway's killer, Austin Sigg, is not one of them.

"To say they he is going to get out, and that deliberate, intentional misinformation is trying to get the public to become fearful, when in fact, it's based on a lie," Thompson said.

The DAs said if the bill proceeds, they will call on the governor to veto it.  Despite some families who say even their children's killers deserve a second chance.

"The motivation that spreads through the incarcerated people is one that there's hope.  And I'm sorry, the sentences they were giving to teenagers, were a no-hope message," said Gordon England, whose son, Joel, was murdered by one of the "48."

Denver 7 reached out to the Governor's office but we have not heard back.

The bill brings Colorado in line with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that mandatory life without parole sentences for youth offenders are unconstitutional.

The bill is up for another round of voting on Thursday.

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