PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When Joanne Bishop received an automated voice message last week that said the man who killed her son more than two decades ago was up for parole, she immediately began searching for answers.

The message didn’t provide her with much information, other than that a parole hearing was scheduled for Joao Neves, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 1999.

Bishop said her son, John Cumiskey, was shot and killed during a robbery in Providence 23 years ago. Neves, who was 16 at the time, and his accomplice Eliecer Ortiz, later admitted to robbing and killing Cumiskey that night. The pair also committed five other robberies prior to Cumiskey’s death, according to Bishop.

“They terrorized the city of Providence,” she said of Neves and Ortiz.

Neves was prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to serve life in prison. Ortiz pleaded guilty and also received a life sentence.

Fast forward 23 years, and Neves is now eligible for parole. It’s all because of the Youthful Offenders Act, which gives prisoners who committed crimes before the age of 22 a chance to seek parole after serving at least 20 years.

The bill was signed into law last year. Bishop said when she first learned of the legislation, she worried about the repercussions of it.

“If you wanted to have someone killed, you could pay a 14 or 15-year-old kid,” Bishop explained, adding that criminals could assure the teens they were hiring that they wouldn’t serve a significant amount of jail time if caught.

Courtesy: R.I. Department of Corrections

Bishop said she and other victims’ families should’ve been involved in the drafting of the legislation, and is questioning why their concerns weren’t considered.

“What if it happened to their children?” she said through tears. “How would they feel? Would they be passing this law if it were their son or daughter? It’s just not fair.”

Rep. Julie Casmiro, the bill’s sponsor, explained why she believes juvenile offenders deserve a second chance.

“Kids make mistakes, sometimes truly awful mistakes, but we have to realize they were still committed by children, children without fully developed brains and the necessary biological and social development to realize the significant impacts and consequences of their crimes,” she said. “If we truly believe in our judicial system of rehabilitation, the children who committed crimes and finished growing up inside a jail cell deserve a shot at freedom if they realize the error and pain caused by their previous actions and can prove that they have fundamentally changed.”

Dina Neves, Joao Neves’ sister, testified on her brother’s behalf in 2019 when a similar bill was brought before the R.I. General Assembly.

“My brother is not a monster,” she said. “He is a human being who made a mistake in life.”

But Bishop thinks otherwise.

“She says he’s missed out on family things … but John has missed out on everything,” Bishop said. “[Neves] put himself there.”

A Superior Court judge granted Neves’ request for parole, along with two other inmates serving lengthy sentences, earlier this week after the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU) argued they were unlawfully incarcerated following the law’s passage.

ACLU cooperating attorney Lynette Labinger explained that the law gives inmates “a chance to demonstrate that, after serving 20 years in jail, they can satisfy the state’s very high standards for release.”

“Each of these three men did just that,” Labinger said. “But even so, the R.I. Department of Corrections refused to allow them to be released on parole.”

But Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha filed an emergency motion in response, requesting the Rhode Island Supreme Court review the lower court’s decision and clarify the law as needed.

“The issue of whether youthful offenders should be eligible for parole after serving 20 years of a life sentence … is an important question that will impact a large number of cases,” a spokesperson for Neronha said. “It is important not only to the state … but also to defendants, the public at large and perhaps most importantly to the victims’ families … to understand what these sentences really mean.”

If the emergency motion by the Supreme Court is granted, it would ensure Neves and the two other prisoners remain behind bars until it’s completed.

The Rhode Island Department of Corrections tells 12 News a total of 67 inmates are potentially affected by the court’s ruling, and 13 of them have already served at least 20 years.

Bishop said she’s speaking out now so the families of those murder victims are aware of this new law.

“I’m sure there are hundreds of people out there that don’t know about this law,” she said. “I’m sure I’m not the only one this is happening to.”