juvenile lifers

Maryland Bill Would End Life Sentences Without Parole for Juveniles

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Maryland lawmakers are considering abolishing sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders, and a victim of the Beltway sniper attacks supports it.

The Juvenile Restoration Act would stop Maryland judges from sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole and allow people called “juvenile lifers” to ask a judge for release if they’ve served 20 years and can prove they’re rehabilitated.

Paul LaRuffa was shot and wounded in the attacks involving then 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo almost 20 years ago.

“I was shot five times in September of 2002 and left for dead,” he said. 

He said he supports the legislation that would stop the sentence Malvo is serving.

“They are not a get-out-of-jail-free card for anybody,” LaRuffa said. “They are not excusing the crime or they are not ignoring punishment and personal responsibility of the offender.”

Advocates say a disproportionate number of kids given these lengthy sentences are Black.

“We often think of Maryland as a bastion for progressivism and diversity, but in this case we are on the wrong side of history,” Maryland Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s County) said. 

The Maryland State’s Attorneys Association is opposed, saying there are many appeals, motions and reviews already available to offenders and this new law would put crime victims through more trauma with even more hearings.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy supports the bill.

“An opportunity for someone who was a child when they committed an offense to prove to us and show us and demonstrate that they have learned their lesson.”

Eddie Ellis says he learned his lesson, served his time then was released.

“I was one of the kids that was condemned, at the age of 16,” he said. “And I’ve proven in the last 15 years change is possible.”

The law would allow for victims to have a say in the process, but ultimately, a judge would decide.

Experts say more than 400 people would be eligible to seek release if the legislation passes.

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