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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Outliving a 'life' sentence

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Thomas Hagan had been in prison longer than any other murderer I was aware of, before being released after forty-five years. It turns out that he was beat out by at least one person, a woman named Betty Smithey, who was sentenced in 1963 to life in prison without parole.

As I predicted, "life in prison without parole" only means that if the life in question happens to be shorter than average. Upon reaching the ripe old age of sixty-nine, Betty was judged to be no longer a danger to society, and has been released after forty-nine years in the Arizona penal system.

I'm still not aware of anyone in America who has served even fifty years of a life sentence for murder.

As mentioned in an update to the earlier post, William Heirens pleaded guilty in order to escape a possible execution in 1946--back before they stopped executing everyone convicted of murder in open court. His youth, combined with the youth of his alleged victims' family members, enabled him to serve sixty-five years in prison without ever being approved for parole over the objections of the survivors. So I need to change that last sentence to:

 I'm still not aware of anyone in America who has served even fifty years of a "life sentence" handed down following conviction by a jury--whether or not it was a "life sentence without possibility of parole." And I expect that number to continue to drop.

Given that the US is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to a "life sentence without possibility of parole," and the mandatory five-year review sounds suspiciously like a parole hearing, I don't see how anyone will ever break Heirens' record.

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