- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MANCHESTER, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa teenager who pleaded guilty to shooting his grandparents with his grandfather’s rifle is a cold-blooded murderer who should never get another chance at freedom, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Isaiah Sweet, now 19, should serve the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole for the May 2012 slayings of Janet and Richard Sweet at their home in Manchester, District Judge Michael Shubatt ruled.

“He may be young, but he has shown the world who he is,” Shubatt said, reading a written ruling in a Delaware County courtroom in Manchester in front of several of the victims’ friends and relatives. “He is extremely dangerous. He is now and will continue to be a threat to society.”

Sweet had pleaded guilty last year to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the couple, his legal guardians. He was a 17-year-old high school dropout when he shot them in the head on a Friday evening. Their bodies were found on a sofa in their home two days later on Mother’s Day, when relatives came over for a gathering.

A day after the killings, Sweet drove 75 miles south to the college town of Iowa City to party with friends. He was briefly held on a traffic charge and released to a counselor. He was eventually arrested in connection with the slayings one day after the bodies were found, following an intense manhunt in which he ran from police on foot in a wooded area of Cedar Rapids.

First-degree murder convictions normally carry automatic prison sentences of life without parole in Iowa. But because Sweet was 17, he qualified for a possible shorter sentence under recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court that require judges to consider whether teenage offenders can be rehabilitated. Those rulings say that, at a minimum, judges must conduct hearings to consider each defendant’s situation rather than giving them harsh, automatic sentences.

Sweet’s defense asked for a chance for parole after 25 years, citing an expert who claimed he might have a 75 percent chance of rehabilitating.

Shubatt said he believed that was overly optimistic, and that Sweet was the rare juvenile offender who deserved life behind bars.

Sweet shot two unsuspecting victims simply because he did not like the control they exercised over him, Shubatt said. He planned the killings by consulting with others and then sold off his grandparents’ belongings afterward, even showing a friend a television a few feet from their bodies, Shubatt said.

Assistant Attorney General Denise Timmins, who prosecuted the case, said she believed the sentence marked the first time since a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a juvenile offender in Iowa has received life without parole.

“If it’s warranted in any case, this is the one,” she told reporters, calling the crime premeditated and heinous. “He took two people’s lives without a thought about it.”

Sweet didn’t show any emotion after the ruling, leaving the courtroom with his attorneys. They’re expected to appeal.

Angie Camlin, a daughter of the Sweets, told reporters that she did not believe Isaiah Sweet could be rehabilitated, noting that one doctor called him “a psychopath with no empathy.”

“This cannot be healed with medicine and you cannot teach a person how to feel. He was raised by grandparents who showed him love and cared for him deeply,” she said.

A friend of Sweet, 21-year-old Brandon Ahlers, was sentenced last year to 18 years in prison after admitting to being an accessory. Investigators say Sweet and Ahlers discussed different ways the couple might be killed, with Ahlers advising him on how to use the rifle. After the couple was dead, Ahlers broke into the home so he could steal Richard Sweet’s vehicle and other items. Sweet also gave the rifle to Ahlers, who sold it.

Camlin praised Shubatt for giving Sweet the maximum, saying it makes her feel safer.

“I won’t feel that I have to look over my shoulder in 20 or 30 years,” she said, “or have my grandchildren on the same street as someone who cannot be helped.”

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