ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – It seemed likely that Michael Brown, 44, would die in prison.
He was tried as an adult in 1995 and convicted by a jury on first-degree murder and other charges in the stabbing death of his grandparents. He was 16 but sentenced as a violent youthful offender to life plus 41 years, ensuring he would spend at least 71 years in prison.
Then, in November, a state district judge amended Brown’s sentence making him eligible for parole in February 2024 after he has served 30 years in prison.
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“Michael went to prison around the time that I was born,” Brown’s attorney, Denali Wilson, 28, told the Albuquerque Journal. “That’s the way we’re handling these cases in New Mexico, and that can’t be the way we respond to harm caused by children.”
Wilson and other advocates for youthful offenders are pushing for legislation that would abolish life without parole for juveniles sentenced as adults.
The proposed “Second Chance” bill would make juveniles sentenced as adults eligible for parole after serving 15 years in prison. If parole is denied, the request would be reconsidered by the parole board every two years.
Wilson, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, estimates that Brown is one of 75 people in New Mexico serving long adult prison sentences for crimes they committed as children.
The proposal is similar to Senate Bill 247, which the chamber passed 28-11 in March 2021. The legislative session ended before the House could consider the bill.
The bill’s co-sponsor, Democrat Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque, has asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to include the measure in her call for the 2022 regular session.
The governor’s office said no decision have been made about whether to include it on the agenda.
The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office voiced opposition earlier this year to some portions of the bill, citing an outcry from crime victims. Jerri Mares, a spokeswoman for the office, said victims and their families should be included in any discussions about the bill.
Sedillo Lopez said a state law is needed to provide consistency to the way state judges handle serious crimes committed by juveniles.
She also said the bill is not a “get out of jail free card” for criminal offenders. The decision to release would rest with a parole board.
The measure also would also provide young offenders with incentive to change, demonstrate good behavior in prison, and reform their lives, she said, noting that she believes “children have an enormous capacity for change.”