The Texas House Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee reviewed a bill on Monday that would show more leniency for Texans who were convicted as minors and are applying for parole.
The bill, authored by El Paso Democrat state Rep. Joe Moody, would make parole panels assess the growth of an inmate and weigh the fact that they were juveniles at the time of the offense.
The bill would also allow these juvenile offenders serving life sentences to be eligible for parole after 20 years.
Many of those who testified in support of the bill — family members, lawyers, and those working at related nonprofits, said many Texans who were convicted as minors were convicted under the “law of parties,” a piece of Texas law that allows a person to be held criminally responsible for the actions of someone else as long as they are found to be co-conspirators.
Leak Metzler, chief of staff for the Epicenter Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to the issue, told committee lawmakers about Jermaine Hicks, a Texan who in 1994 was convicted of capital murder at the age of 15 for the fatal shooting of a grocery store clerk.
Hicks did not pull the trigger, he was with two other teenage boys at the time, one of which committed the fatal shooting. Hicks was convicted under the law of parties rule and sentenced to life.
Michelle Munn, who also testified on behalf of the Epicenter Initiative, said her brother Michael has served 27 years since his conviction as a minor. She said he has since acquired a GED and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in prison.
“He’s ready to make a difference in this world. I hope he gets that opportunity,” she said.
In Texas, 1388 juvenile offenders are currently serving life sentences (a minimum sentence of 39 years). Of those, 861 have already served more than two decades. Almost two-thirds of them are not eligible for parole.
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