NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — A bill being considered by Rhode Island lawmakers seeks to remove “life without parole” as a possible punishment for criminal convictions.
If passed, the legislation would prevent judges from sentencing a defendant to life without the possibility of parole for serious violent crimes like first-degree murder. Its sponsor, state Rep. Jay Edwards, told 12 News the sentence is “basically the second death penalty.”
The bill would also give certain inmates already serving life sentences a chance at release after 25 years served.
For the family of a 16-year-old girl who was stabbed, raped and left to be found by her mother, the thought of her killer being let out of prison is not only disturbing, but also forcing them to relive some of their darkest days.
“I have family members who are still in counseling and have been since the first day,” Dawn Keys said. “Her younger sister can’t even come to Rhode Island without having nightmares of the fact that he could get out and find her.”
Keys is a prevention coordinator in Newport and the cousin of Rogers High School sophomore Kristen Jorge, who was murdered back in 1997. Charles Smith was found guilty of killing her and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
“That isn’t something you can ever forget,” Keys said. “You find ways to cope and go through everyday life, but you never forget.”
Keys asked state lawmakers to put themselves in victims’ families’ shoes when considering the proposal.
“I don’t feel like they should come out of prison where they could again commit another crime and be sent right back,” Keys said of convicted killers.
But Edwards assured the bill would not guarantee freedom to those serving time for heinous crimes, calling the Parole Board “pretty strict.”
“A lot of them, if not all of them, deserve to be there without hope,” he said. “This bill is not going to open the floodgates and allow people out of prison.”
“I just think we, as a society, we need to be able to look at them,” Edwards added. “If they are able to be forgiven, we can do that. Some people you will just never be able to forgive.”
Keys argues, however, that it would only reopen old wounds.
“For me, it meant my family living in fear,” she said. “The other thing is these victims don’t have a second chance. They lost their first chance of life.”
Keys told 12 News she plans to testify when the bill is heard. She also said she’s going back to school to study criminal justice so she can be an advocate for victims of domestic violence.