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Washington Juvenile Killers Could Get Second Chance At Release

Evan Vucci
AP Photo
FILE - In this April 9, 2010 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington.

Nearly 30 juvenile killers currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Washington could be eligible for release in the future, thanks to a new state law that took effect this month.

The law was passed in response to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that automatic sentences of life without parole for juvenile killers are unconstitutional. In response, the Washington state Legislature this year passed a law that requires new, individualized sentences for these aggravated murderers.

Under the law, once the offender has served a minimum of 25 years, he or she will get an automatic hearing before the state’s Sentencing Board. Not only that, the presumption is the board will release the juvenile killer unless there’s some compelling reason not to.

“These cases are very similar to the cases that we already deal with, and they are emotionally-charged,” said Lynn Delano, chairwoman of the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, which will decide whether to release the juvenile killer. “There’s been obviously at least one victim of a horrible crime and sometimes more victims. They’re just challenging and the decision-making is challenging as well.”

One high-profile juvenile killer has already been resentenced and is now eligible for release. He’s Barry Massey, the youngest juvenile sentenced to life without parole in the nation. Massey was 13 in 1987 when he and another teenage boy killed Pierce County marina owner Paul Wang in a robbery. Life without parole is still possible for juvenile aggravated murderers in Washington if they were 16 or older at the time of the crime.

The new Washington law also addresses nearly 170 other juveniles serving long prison sentences for crimes other than aggravated murder. They will now have the opportunity to petition for release after 20 years behind bars if they haven’t committed a major infraction inside prison within the past year.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.