STL Post-Dispatch: Juvenile murderers could get parole hearings

By Kurt Erickson St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • More than 80 juvenile murderers could get parole hearings as part of an overhaul of state crime laws that won preliminary approval in the Senate Monday.

Under the rewrite moving through the Senate, if a juvenile sentenced for first degree murder was younger than 16 at the time of the offense, he could be eligible for parole after 35 years. If the murderer was 16 or older, he or she would be eligible for parole after serving 50 years.

The move, which awaits final approval in the Senate and must still be taken up by the House, is a response to a number of court cases.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a juvenile to death was unconstitutional, leaving Missouri with only one option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

In 2012, the high court ruled that allowing only one option for those juveniles – life without parole — also was unconstitutional.

In March, the state’s high court ruled that the group of 84 inmates should be granted a parole hearing after serving 25 years of their life sentences.

“It is high time we act,” said Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican who sponsored the rewrite. “We have a Department of Corrections, not a Department of Punishment.”

Sen. Jill Schupp. D-St. Louis, said 50 years is too long to wait. She said a parole hearing should be allowed after 25 years.

“It doesn’t mean they’ll be released,” Schupp said.

Dixon said he believes 25 years is not long enough.

“I think that it sends the wrong message,” Dixon said. “We’re talking about cold-blooded, premeditated murder.”

The legislation is Senate Bill 590.

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