LAS VEGAS (AP) — Five inmates convicted of homicide as juveniles have gone free in Nevada since state lawmakers banned life-without-parole for minors and allowed those already serving such sentences to make a case for release, state prison officials say.
The 2015 law provided parole eligibility to inmates who were juveniles at the time of their crimes, had already served 20 years in prison, and were not convicted of multiple murders.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles in homicide cases. Last year, after Nevada passed its law, the justices applied the ruling retroactively to those already in prison on such sentences. A month before that Supreme Court decision, the Nevada’s law was upheld by the state’s high court.
“These are not partisan issues. We’re talking about kids,” said state Assemblyman John Hambrick, the Republican author of the Nevada law. He also served on a state Supreme Court commission that studied juvenile justice reform and chaired a state Juvenile Justice Commission.
“Kids process information differently and make decisions differently than adults,” said Hambrick, a former federal law enforcement agent in his fifth term in the Legislature. “Sociologically, the human brain is not mature at 16, 17 — even 18-year-olds.”
The law made 24 juvenile homicide offenders eligible for sentence reviews, state prisons analyst Nancy Flores said.
Nineteen are still in prison, including two whose death sentences were converted to life without parole.
Michael Domingues was 16 years old when he strangled his 24-year-old neighbor in Las Vegas and stabbed her 4-year-old son to death in October 1993. He was 17 when he was convicted of double murder and sentenced to be executed. His sentence was converted in 2010 to life without parole.
Domingues and his lawyer, Lisa Rasmussen, want the Nevada Supreme Court to rule him constitutionally entitled to a new sentencing hearing at which he could argue that juvenile offenders are too neurologically and psychologically immature to face a lifetime behind bars. A ruling is pending.
The state Legislature passed more laws this year giving judges discretion to reduce by about one-third the sentences of offenders who are 17 or under when they commit their crimes. The governor signed the measure into law May 31.
Lawmakers also approved, and the governor signed, a law that lets the state parole board commute death sentences for juveniles to sentences allowing the possibility of parole.