A life sentence in prison, it’s often called the harshest penalty aside from death itself.
“You don’t get a life without parole for no reason whatsoever. It normally involves a victim and the crime is normally something significant,” said Rep. Lane Roberts/(R) Jasper/Newton County.
House Bill 352 could provide some inmates sentenced to life without parole another shot to live outside their cell.
“It would allow them to have a parole hearing if they were 65-years-old and had served at least 30 years,” Roberts explained.
In addition to time, there’s strict requirements to qualify.
“You had to have a perfect record in prison. I mean no violations or violence, this had to be your only crime or the only felony at least that you were ever convicted of,” said Rep. Steve Butz/(D) St. Louis City.
These individuals also cannot be sex offenders. That narrows the pool down to about 130 Missouri prisoners.
“Of that number probably, I would say maybe half of those would have potential to get parole,” said Rep. Bob Bromley, Carl Junction.
On the House floor, lawmakers debate from two very different perspectives on the bill, sprouting from similar personal experiences. Representative Bob Bromley, from Carl Junction, feels sentences, no matter when given, shouldn’t be changed.
“One of my good friends from high school, we were about 30-years-old, and he was actually murdered,” said Bromley.
The two men accused of killing bromley’s friend are spending life in jail, and he says that’s where the victim’s family was promised they would stay.
“I think that once you promise something, you can’t go back and retroactively change that. I don’t believe that the perpetrators have the same rights as the victims in this one,” Bromley explained.
Also seeing that perspective, through experience in law enforcement, is Representative Lane Roberts, a former Joplin police chief.
“I had to look the victims in the eye. I had to hear the pain, I had to see the damage. And so, it’s not that I’m hard-hearted, I do believe in second chances, I just think that we owe it to the victim first,” said Roberts.
On the other side of the isle is Representative steve butz.
“It’s well known I have a sister who was brutally raped and murdered in the state of Washington,” said Butz.
After the murder of his sister, Teresa, Butz and his family advocated for her killer to get a life sentence instead of the death penalty. Now, he’s supporting this bill, anchoring his reasoning in forgiveness.
“Eventually you have to come to some sort of peace and forgiveness and reconciliation. Surviving victims and family members can’t dwell on letting that vengeance fester for decades on end, because it will just eat them alive,” said Butz.
Butz feels some offenders can change, and that the justice system should give them a chance to prove it. Something former Missouri inmate, Jeff Mizanskey, agrees with.
“In most cases they’ve changed, most people do change. Especially when nonviolent,” said Jeff Mizanskey, former inmate.
Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent marijuana crime in the 90’s.
“Possession with intent to distribute,” Mizanskey explained.
In a rare circumstance, Mizanskey’s sentence was commuted by then Governor Jay Nixon, after serving 21 years of his sentence.
“I was 3 months short of 22 years, I believe,” he said.
Walking a free man today, he’s says he’s lucky, and thinks more non-violent offenders deserve that same feeling. Something this bill could provide.
“I definitely was one of the lucky ones. I was sitting in prison, waiting to die. Not being able to be with my family. I’m lucky to be out here at all,” said Mizanskey.
House Bill 352 passed through the House and is now before the Senate.