SALEM, Ore. – Five Oregon murderers are getting a chance at an earlier parole date. They are inmates who are serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were teens. Two of the killers went before the Oregon Parole Board Tuesday. It’s the latest step in an ongoing controversy over how to treat these offenders.
First a little history about the handful of inmates known commonly as juvenile lifers. They committed heinous crimes when they were teenagers. Conrad Engweiler was just 15 in 1990 when he brutally raped and murdered his classmate, Erin Reynolds. She was a 16 year old cancer survivor. Engweiler received a life sentence. But at the time, Oregon had no clear guidelines on how long juveniles convicted of aggravated murder would have to serve before they could get a parole hearing. Engweiler was first told he'd have to wait 30 years. Later, that was changed to 40 years. Here’s the thing: That's actually longer than an adult killer in the same situation would have had to wait. But last fall the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Engweiler and four other teen killers like him would get a new chance at an earlier parole. That ruling led to this round of Oregon Parole Board hearings.
Aaron Felton: "Mr Engweiler comes in here today with a life sentence. He'll leave here today with a life sentence."
That's Aaron Felton, the chair of the Parole Board. If you missed what he said through the fuzzy sound system, you would have had at least two other chances during the hearing to hear him make the same point…that this series of hearings will not result in an immediate release for these convicted killers. Still, the turn of events does mean the now 30-something men could get out of prison earlier than previously thought. And that rankles the victims' families. Earl Reynolds is the father of Erin. He spoke to the Parole Board about his daughter’s killer.
Earl Reynolds: "Every minute that he spends in prison is justification for our daughter's life. And we want as many as we can get. We wanted his life. We were told we couldn't have that, but that was all the sweetener that he should have had."
For his part, Engweiler offered the Parole Board no excuse for his crime.
Conrad Engweiler: "I was a messed up kid. That's not a justification for it. It was a twisted, evil crime. I'm not going to give you any mitigation for it. I would never ask for that. I don't ask for that."
But what he did ask for was to be considered for parole a little sooner. The Parole Board granted that wish. He’ll be eligible for parole, but not until 2018. That’s 28 years after the murder. The Reynolds family called the ruling a victory because the Board gave Engweiler the maximum number of years behind bars permitted under sentencing guidelines .
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