- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri Supreme Court ruling last month has given new hope to more than 80 inmates who were convicted as juveniles of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In response to two U.S. Supreme Court rulings - one in 2012 that required two sentencing options for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, and another in January that said the earlier ruling was retroactive - the Missouri high court on March 15 ordered that all juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole in the prison system be granted a parole hearing after serving 25 years.

That means people like Joseph Dayringer, who was 16 in 1987 when he was sentenced for fatally stabbing his 26-year-old Joplin neighbor 39 times, will get their first chance for parole.

Dayringer, who was 15 when he killed Joyce Holland, has been in prison ever since, the Joplin Globe (https://bit.ly/1VfSArg ) reported.

Before 2005, there were two sentencing options for Missouri juveniles convicted of first-degree murder - the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

But that year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a different Missouri case that sentencing someone younger than 18 to death was unconstitutional. That left Missouri with just the option of life without parole.

Many states corrected their statutes after the 2012 ruling, but Missouri didn’t, said Greg Mermelstein, an attorney with the state Public Defender’s Office.

Some states required at least 25 years in prison before juvenile killers were eligible for parole, some offered it as early as 15 years and others required 40 years before a parole hearing.

Since Missouri legislators have not passed any laws fixing the state’s sentencing law since the 2012 ruling, the state Supreme Court took action, Mermelstein said.

Lawmakers have tried to pass new sentencing guidelines, but attempts in each of the last three sessions were unsuccessful.

Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican, is sponsoring a bill that would make juveniles whose offenses happened before they were 16 eligible for parole after 25 years. Those whose offenses happened when they were 16 or older would have to wait 50 years.

The bill was debated by the full Senate last week but has not received initial approval.

Some, including former Joplin detective Ken Copeland, don’t believe Dayringer should receive parole.

Copeland, who is now Newton County sheriff, was the first to notice deep scratch marks on Dayringer’s face that led him to become a suspect.

Copeland remembers Holland’s kitchen covered in blood and said he would be glad if Dayringer is never released.

“Some people never deserve to be on the streets again,” he said.


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, https://www.joplinglobe.com

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