State Senator looks into giving juvenile offenders a chance at parole

New Mexico News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Should people who commit crimes as juveniles but are sentenced as adults be given a chance to get out early? That’s what one state senator is exploring, but for some victims and their families, it doesn’t sit well.

“He was the light of life. He could find beauty in anything,” said Heather Alter, the daughter of Steven Gerecke.

Steven Gerecke’s family still feels the pain every day.

“His death started a storm, and I entered that storm along with my family and the community, and I don’t’ even know how I survived it or got through it,” said Alter.

The well-known local bartender was shot in 2015 when a group of six teenagers went on a mobbing spree across Albuquerque.

“I’ve come to a point of acceptance of where I’m at, and it’s kind of released me from the anger,” Alter said.

Two of the teens were sentenced as adults. Now, Senator Bill O’Neill is looking into potential legislation that could give those who committed crimes as juveniles but were sentenced as adults, a chance at parole.

“We have a situation where individuals are doing 60 years, 70 years, 80 years through what’s called stack sentences, so it’s equivalent to life without parole,” said Bill O’Neill.

He said there are currently 41 inmates in New Mexico in that situation. He’s vetting out the idea but says he won’t move forward unless he has bipartisan support in the legislature.

“It’s just basically… are individuals salvageable? And some aren’t. Some, are not,” he said.

Although, he said if juvenile offenders have shown signs of remorse or redemption, they should get the chance to have a parole hearing.

“Are they ready to be released? And I trust the parole board to make a good decision that way,” said O’Neill.

For people like Gerecke’s daughter, however, the idea is a hard pill to swallow.

“I feel like Senator O’Neill’s inquiry is a slap in the face to victims of violent crime,” said Alter.

O’Neill said there will be a joint interim committee meeting next week to discuss his idea. A CYFD psychiatrist, a retired Supreme Court justice and a juvenile offender who was released from prison will be there to weigh in.

The senator also invites any victims and victims’ families to attend the hearing to discuss the idea.

The joint committee meeting will be held October 9, in the Science Rotunda at UNM at 2:15.

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