Mich. House committee hears testimony on bill to amend life-without-parole sentences for minors

By Todd A. Heywood 5/26/09 2:36 PM
LANSING — The House Judiciary Committee heard nearly five hours of testimony on Tuesday about proposed legislation to change the way juveniles who commit murder are punished. Right now, juveniles age 17 and under who are charged with and convicted of first-degree murder face a life-without-parole sentence. The bill would change that, allowing a parole board to take testimony and consider releasing convicted youth after 15 years.

The hearing featured gut-wrenching testimony from family members of murder victims, as well as testimony of families of youth sentenced to life in prison.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy testified that the bill should not become law.

“I don’t think anyone is beyond redemption,” Worthy said. “But there is difference between redemption and the punishment for your crime.”

Worthy, joined by Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, testified that passing the bill into law would encourage gangs to continue to recruit youth to perpetrate violent crime on the hope of getting lighter sentences. Such a situation in Wayne County in the 1970s and ’80s lead to the state’s passage of the current juvenile life-without-parole law.

Diane Bukowski, a reporter for The Michigan Citizen, testified in favor the bill. Bukowski called on the Judiciary Committee to pass the law, and even expand it to include those prisoners convicted of crimes committed when they were 17.

“I think the bill should be passed,” she told the committee. “People should remember ‘vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.’ That is in the Bible for those vengeance seekers out there.”

The legislation did not receive a vote from the committee, as the hearing concluded at 1:40 p.m. and there was not a quorum of representatives present to vote.