There is news today involving two Boise cases in which teens convicted of murdering their parents have received life sentences. In the Ada County Courthouse yesterday, Judge Michael McLaughlin sentenced Derek Lewis to life in prison with twenty years "fixed." Under Idaho’s sentencing scheme, that "fixed" component means that Lewis will not become eligible for parole until he has served twenty years. He is eighteen years old. Lewis pleaded guilty to killing his father by shooting him in the head. At sentencing Judge McLaughlin made much of the fact that Lewis still insists he "accidentally" killed his father, although he entered the plea earlier to a charge that requires proof of an intentional act. McLaughlin told Lewis he would never get parole until he admits his responsibility for the killing. At least Lewis will have a chance at release, such is not the case with Ethan Windhom, who killed his mother when he was 16 and was sentenced to "fixed" life by Judge Cheri Copsey. The Idaho Court of Appeals upheld that sentence yesterday, based on the "egregious" nature of the homicide.
All of which is a good reminder that the type and severity of sentence in any criminal case is somewhat unpredictable. Is one killing really that much different from the other in these cases? Although Lewis has apparently not accepted his responsibility for the murder of his dad, Windhom has been diagnosed as schizophrenic. If his case is more egregious, it may be the result of the mental illness. In Idaho there is no insanity defense, so the "schizophrenia card" does not buy much.
What is apparent from both decisions is the fact that the Judges in each case were looking for evidence that the defendants understood and accepted responsibility for their crimes. This is not new – in virtually every case the court is looking for proof that the defendant "gets it." That is to say that the defendant has to convince the court that there is a reason to give the defendant a chance. They need to see that the defendant "gets it." If they don’t see that, it is likely the sentence will not give the opportunity needed. If you have a sentencing question, jump into this and leave a comment.