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Commission Considers Juvenile Sentencing

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By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Some ex-offenders on Thursday urged a panel that makes recommendations to the General Assembly to give those convicted of serious crimes as juveniles a second chance at life by offering them an opportunity for an earlier parole.

But in an emotional plea, a Norwich man whose wife and son were murdered by a 15-year-old boy in 1993, told members of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission that such a proposal would ultimately be unfair to the victims.

“I’m for giving any kid a second break. But if you give him a break,” said John Cluny, referring to his family’s killer, “you bring my 14-year-old son and wife back to life.”

The commission, whose membership includes the state’s top prosecutor and public defender, held a hearing at the Legislative Office Building on a series of proposals it is considering recommending to the General Assembly, which convenes in January.

Judge Joseph Shortall, chairman of the commission, said the panel is looking at the issue of giving people who were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms as juveniles a chance at early parole because the U.S. Supreme Court has required the state give these offenders “a meaningful opportunity” sometime during their sentence to seek release, but not necessarily to be released.

“We as a commission are required to consider how we can implement that requirement of the Supreme Court,” Shortall said.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, who prosecuted Cluny’s case when he was the prosecutor in New London County, tried to assure him the commission is attempting to find a proper balance.

“We’re not here to say we’re going to reduce sentences and let these people out. We’re here to try and find a vehicle in which a fair determination and an honest and just determination can be made as to who should stay in forever– because there are some who should stay in forever– and who should be able to come out,” he said.

Several ex-offenders told stories about how they were convicted of serious crimes as a young people, served lengthy sentences and went on to lead productive lives in society.

William Outlaw III, who served 20 years in state and federal prison on charges related to operating a large drug operation as a young man, said he matured in prison and eventually became a success in life and a better person. He now works two jobs in New Haven helping other ex-offenders and troubled youth.

“At a young age, I was influenced by older guys. That’s who I hung out with and that’s who I looked up to. When a kid is a young age, it’s easy to be influenced,” he said. “My morals came back in jail.”

Outlaw was one of several people who testified on behalf of Tyrone Whitaker, who has been imprisoned for murder for the past 24 years on a 50-year sentence he received when he was 17.

Trent Butler said he was at the hearing on Whitaker’s behalf. Butler said he himself served 14 years of a 45-year sentence for accessory to murder before the state Supreme Court reversed his sentence. Now, he said, he has earned a college degree, works two jobs and is aiming to get a master’s degree in criminal justice.

“People make mistakes and we hurt families and we do terrible things,” Butler said. “But I believe everyone deserves another opportunity to get out here and be productive.”

Besides the opportunity for earlier parole, the commission is looking at other proposal such as issuing special certificates to nonviolent convicts that prospective employers and landlords would have to consider when deciding on convicts’ applications.
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Associated Press Writer Dave Collins contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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