I am writing to bring to the community’s attention a very dangerous bill that is pending in the Missouri General Assembly. House Bill 195 will allow a violent criminal to petition a court to reduce a sentence of life without parole to life with eligibility for parole in certain circumstances. I am joining Missouri’s elected prosecutors in opposing this legislation because I feel it helps violent criminals and hurts crime victims.
House Bill 195 would allow criminals ordered to serve a sentence of life without parole to petition a court to change the sentence to become eligible for parole hearings after serving twenty-five years and meeting certain other conditions.
Representative James Neely from Cameron, Missouri, sponsored the bill and produced witnesses at a public hearing in the Missouri General Assembly that included the ACLU, Public Defenders, Criminal Defense attorneys, social workers, and individuals who have someone serving a sentence of life without parole, in favor of the bill.
One of the persons that testified in favor of the bill dealt with a case in our community a little more than 20 years ago. Travis Canon and two accomplices robbed a convenience store in 1997 on US Highway 71 south of Maryville. Canon shot and killed the store clerk, Gracie Hixson, during the robbery. In order to avoid the possibility of the death penalty, Canon pleaded guilty to first degree murder and agreed to serve a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Approximately 22 years later, Canon’s mother spoke to the legislature in support of House Bill 195 which would give Canon the eligibility of paroling out from prison.
This bill applies to ALL offenses where someone is serving a sentence of life without parole, including first degree murder and those sex offenses against children under the age of 12, which mandate a sentence of life without parole. Individuals who are guilty of these crimes should not be allowed to re-open the wounds they inflicted on their victims by petitioning the Court to lower their punishment.
The State of Missouri should uphold its commitment to crime victims. In practice throughout the State, victims’ families have been assured for years by prosecutors and judges that the person who killed their loved one would serve life without parole. This is especially true in cases where a prosecutor advised a family that it would be the best certain disposition in taking a plea to 1st degree murder with a sentence of life without parole instead of pursuing the death penalty.
Missouri criminal juries have already weighed the evidence and found the accused should serve life in prison without parole. Politicians should not get to supersede their decision after the fact. Under Missouri law, criminal juries have been instructed for years that life without parole is the sentence for first degree murder if the death penalty is not imposed. In cases where the death penalty is not pursued, criminal juries were instructed that their options were life without parole if they found the accused guilty of 1st degree murder, or 10-30 years or life with possibility of parole if they found the accused guilty of 2nd degree murder. Those criminal juries, reflecting 12 members of our community, who chose 1st degree murder with life in prison without parole obviously thought the crime merited that sentence versus a lesser conviction and sentence. We cannot allow our criminal justice system to give a violent offender another chance to avoid punishment for his or her crime. The criminal has got to be held accountable for the crime. The Missouri General Assembly giving a criminal yet another opportunity to avoid punishment is, matter of fact, wrong.
In practice, House Bill 195 would essentially require a mini-trial 25 years after the sentence was imposed in the original case, forcing any surviving victims/victim family members to re-live the experience again. This is wrong.
Gracie Hixson does not get a second chance at living her life. Canon took that from her. Gracie’s family does not get a second chance of having Gracie back in their lives. Canon took that from them. Why should Canon receive a second chance when Gracie and her family does not?
More importantly, the Missouri General Assembly should not clear the way for Canon’s sentence to ever be adjusted or mitigated after the fact through House Bill 195. It is wrong for crime victims and their families.
For these reasons, I ask that you oppose House Bill 195 and that you let our legislators in the Missouri General Assembly know how you feel on this legislation.
–– Bob Rice