- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Under pressure from a Supreme Court ruling, Louisiana senators are advancing a proposal that would give teenagers who have committed homicide a chance at parole after serving 35 years of a life sentence.

In January, the high court extended its 2012 ruling striking down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for crimes committed by people under the age of 18, to include those convicted long ago.

A bill from Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, aims to make Louisiana law conform with that ruling, allowing those currently serving life sentences for first- or second-degree murder to be eligible for a parole hearing. Agreeing that Louisiana must comply with the Supreme Court ruling, a Senate judiciary committee signed off on the bill and sent it to the full Senate for debate.

Supporters of the bill said about 300 Louisiana prisoners were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles. Parole Board members would have the final ruling on whether an offender should be released.

Emotional family members of homicide victims spoke out against the proposal Tuesday.

A tearful Nathan Albritton, of Natchitoches Parish, recounted how his wife and young son were slain more than 20 years ago by a then-15-year-old boy. Albritton said the youth sacrificed some of his freedoms when he acted as a “cold-blooded killer.”

Natchitoches District Attorney Van Kyzar urged the committee to stand firm in requiring inmates to serve a minimum of 35 years before parole eligibility.

Bruce Reilly, deputy director of the New Orleans-based advocacy group Voice for the Ex-Offender, also opposed the bill, but because he thought it should go further: Reilly said offenders who commit crimes before having “fully developed” minds should not have to wait so long for parole eligibility. He argued that juvenile offenders should only have to serve 10 to 15 years before being eligible for parole.

Under the proposed bill, inmates would have to satisfy a number of provisions to qualify for a parole hearing, including not committing disciplinary offenses in the 12 months before the parole eligibility date and completing required pre-release program hours.

“To have a hearing doesn’t let someone out,” Reilly said.

Legislation in other states ranges from granting eligibility as early as 15 years to not allowing it until after 40 years, said Jill Pasquarella, an attorney with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. Some states use a tiered approach when it comes to the time-served requirement, something Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said she may support.

Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, said he plans to propose an amendment to increase the time served to 40 or 45 years.

“I’m not sure that my concern for someone - even at 15, 16, 17 years old - after going through the system and being properly convicted, is to give them hope. I want to punish them for what they did,” Perry said.

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Senate Bill 127: www.legis.la.gov


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