'What about us?': New Mexico crime victims outraged over youth parole bill
LAS CRUCES - On Aug. 28, 2017, Nathaniel Jouett walked into the Clovis Carter Library and opened fire, killing two and injuring others.
Jouett, then 16, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 40 years.
The families affected by the mass shooting didn't think they'd have to hear from Jouett again following his lengthy sentence. But those victims are now speaking out after a bill passed by the New Mexico Senate last week could impact Jouett's sentence, as well as the sentences of other juvenile offenders.
Senate Bill 247 would prohibit juveniles from being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The most serious child offenders could still be sentenced to life in prison, which in New Mexico is 30 years incarcerated. If the bill is successful, law would mandate those juvenile offenders go before a parole board after 15 years and every five years after that.
Proponents say this bill gives a second chance to juveniles who may not have been capable of realizing the impact of their crimes. Families and victims of crimes committed by juveniles say having to continually attend parole board hearings is like pulling a scab that has just begun to heal.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, both Democrats from Albuquerque, still need to be passed by the New Mexico House and signed by the governor before it becomes law. The House has until Saturday to debate and vote on the bill.
Hochman-Vigil said the bill would impact juvenile offenders currently serving time, meaning Jouett could be eligible for a parole hearing after 15 years.
Victims speak out
Jessica Thron, a library worker whose shoulder was shattered by a bullet fired by Jouett, said she's speaking out against the bill for Wanda Walters and Krissie Carter, the two killed in the Clovis shooting, who no longer have a voice.
"It's hurtful, because it seems like lawmakers want to do everything they can in their power to help these murderers — get them rehabilitated and get them back out into society as soon as possible, and it's like what about their victims? What about the ones who were killed that are gone forever? What about those of us who are still alive? What about us," she said.
Carter's daughter, Evie Fisher, said the bill blindsided the victims and families in the Jouett case, who now feel a "pretty good chunk of time for peace" has been taken away.
"Mass shooters, you just don't think, no matter what, that that kind of act really warrants the sentence that he got and it's just really frustrating to pick it back up so soon after, because we're just barely beginning our healing journey at this point," she said.
Youthful offenders, Fisher said, should have to earn their redemption, instead of just having to wait out their sentences, because that's what it's like in the real world.
"We have to take our lives into our own hands and make our own future, and they should have to as well," Fisher said. "Even more so, because of what they have done."
Mandy Walters, whose mother was killed in the attack, said she's forgiven Jouett, but that doesn't mean that he should be able to get out of prison.
"He needs to serve the time for what he did," she said.
Why allow parole?
New Mexico's Senate passed the bill on 28-11 vote.
Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, said she voted in favor of the legislation because at 16 years old, she was a completely different person from who she is now at 52, and these children should have the opportunity to develop.
The bill, she said is not an excuse for the crime.
"This is an explanation of how people are thinking and how people are developing at that age when they make very bad decisions," she said. "According to this bill, they're still in jail for 15 years and then get reevaluated for parole, so if they're not rehabilitated, they're not going to get parole."
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Hamblen said her focus is on giving adolescents who make really bad decisions an opportunity to become better people and doesn't see it as negating the pain of families affected by these crimes.
Fisher said she feels lawmakers in support of the bill are ignoring the "real" victims.
"They're treating the child as the victim, they're treating the adolescent as a victim, when they're really just a victim of their own choice," she said.