Statement by Mark A. Clements, former Juvenile Lifer sentence to die in prison
Thursday was a time for celebration and high fives as the Illinois Supreme Court ruled retroactivity status through the case of People Vs. Addolfo Davis. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme court ruled that juvenile offenders sentence to mandatory terms of natural life had been sentence in violation of their 8th amendment to be free from"Cruel and Unusual Punishment" . Almost immediately once Davis case was decided before the Illinois Supreme court in January-2014 prosecutors and family&friends of crime victims were consulting with Illinois State Legislator Dennis M. Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) to attempt to overturn the Davis ruling. Prosecutors and crime victims encouraged Reboletti to file legislation that would address the issue of kids sentence to die behind the walls of a Illinois State prison.
Illinois HB 5927 calls for all JUVENILES that were sentence to natural life absent mitigation hearings in violation of MILLER to be sentenced between 60 to 100 years, including the possibility that some could indeed be sentence to a term of natural life without parole. This sentence remains cruel and unusual punishment as it affords a judge no flexibility to sentence the youth offender to a lesser penalty. It also calls for natural life sentences to be applied if a judge deem it to be appropriate.
Today in Springfield currently as this article is being posted, a hearing is being conducted by the Restorative Justice Committee in which State Rep. Reboletti sit's as a member. Other members of that Committee listed in Rank:
This committee must decide whether this legislation will be introduced before the full house or will it die while under consideration in committee. In 1990 at which time Davis a 14 year old youth offender was alleged and subsequently found guilty of participating in a double murder on Chicago's south side. While its been prosecutors position that Davis confession shows clear and convincing culpability his attorneys and the community disagree as they call on Illinois courts to re-sentence Davis to a reasonable sentence based off of his lack of participation with the crime, to consider his age, education, I.Q. and other factors.
In many of the cases where these kids have been sentence to die behind prison walls, they played minor roles with the crime. They were sentence to mandatory natural life sentences, hereinafter "JLWOP", absent mitigation hearings that should have provided many "JLWOP" inmates a lesser sentence.
The Family and friends of crime victims, many remain in anguish years after the lost of their love one's. Remaining very determine to ensure that what the judge said in the court room will stand, that the person who killed their love one shall remain in prison without all possibility of parole until they die. No advocate have fought as hard as Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins to ensure that the allege killer of her sister, brother-in-law, and their unborn child would stay behind the walls of a prison until he die.
I have never seen Jennifer so upset and confused then when I seen her at the Davis supreme court hearing. She's my friend, someone I care deeply about, however we stand on opposite sides, as I have openly called for an end to all juvenile life sentences across the country. As she stood their listening to Bob Roberts from WBBM news Radio 780 interview me, she was almost into tears as she could hear my loud voice call for an end how youth offenders are sentenced in the State of Illinois. I am often harassed or even threaten by those who review my comments over the Chicago tribune and Sun times facebook pages. This has caused me to re-examine my views relevant to this issue. Standing their watching Jennifer left me with a cold feeling that I have not been able to shake as I attempt to view myself in her shoes. I lost a uncle on the south side of Chicago to violence in the late 1970's, however my family and friends have been blessed to not become victims of crime as many have in the city of Chicago.
Despite my emotions, I remain determined to continue my fight against this barbaric sentence that sucks the blood and life from the bodies of youth offenders. These were children that never had a fair opportunity in life. As a result of their parents drug and alcohol addictions, mixed in with their life style's which involved street gangs, their children followed many of their paths. Now what we must consider as a society will we stamp a rubber seal on these people backs and tell them that they were born losers!. As a former juvenile lifer in the State of Illinois I was also born to parents that abused drugs and alcohol. While neither associated with street gangs me and my siblings found ourselves abandon with a aunt who resided in some of Chicago worst communities.
For any Illinois Law maker to vote yes that would enact HB 5927 it automatically stamp a death certificate on the foreheads of more then 100 people who are "JLWOP" offenders and it would leave them to sit and suffer behind Illinois inhumane prison walls. This tells all youth offenders that suffer behind this sentence that they were indeed "Born Loser's!". It can send no other message to the family of these people nor to the offender!, other then that they will die inside a Illinois State prison.
In Davis, the Illinois high court got it right. They ruled that MILLER should apply to this State and found that Retroacivity should apply which would require Davis to a re-sentence hearing that would include mitigating factors. In the past the sentencing judge upon a finding of guilt would sentence a kid to natural life without parole absent a mitigation hearing that would bring in evidence to show a kid should be sentence to a lesser penalty. I openly oppose this sentence not because it was applied to me, but because it affords a kid no due process.
The unfairness of kids bonded over to the adult system, told to remain silent as their attorneys prepare and arguer their case before a judge. Some so medicated from psychological medication they slept during segments of their trial. Often many did not even understand the process, many uneducated while their attorneys made key costly mistakes during the trial. Over 90 percent of "JLWOP" were legally represented by public defenders that lacked resources to conduct proper discovery, examination of the evidence, DNA testing, investigations, and proper knowledge of their clients case. For example, I was charged, tried and convicted based off of a confession that identified another person as the culprit to the crime and despite the confession including three other individuals State prosecutors made a decision that I should be charged while the three others were never charged. If the confession was reliable enough to have me charged with the crime based off of the confession alone!, it surely should have been RELIABLE to charge and indict others. However it was the choice of State prosecutors that I be charged based off of the confession. Had they indicted others, it would have destroyed the prosecutors case to obtain a conviction based off of the CONFESSION in which I was tortured to repeat to a cook county prosecutor, because it literally made no common sense. The confession reads that their were four people that went to an apartment on the south side of Chicago. That I was told to collect some bottles. The confession states that I collected three bottles filled them up with gasoline and tortured a resident by stabbing him and pouring gas on his pants legs. It further states, that a KM requested that we go down stairs and get the bottles and that we all had a bottle a piece. How can 4 people and 3 bottles, have a bottle a piece? its unrealistic as was 7100 S. Wells in Chicago. Their is no 7100 S. Wells in Chicago. A Cook County medical examiner testified that he performed the autopsies on the four deceased victims. He found no evidence of a stabbing, nor of a beating. Bottles recovered by Fire and Police officials were allegedly tested for finger prints in which my attorneys were told had a partial print. Because the confession stated that "we" stabbed the victim a knife I kept on me to cut straps from news papers that I delivered was confiscated from me and used into evidence against me. It was the theory of prosecutors that I used this knife and that it obtain blood from the victim Robert Watson. Because I was poor and could not afford an attorney testing on these items could never have been done until 2008. Their were several finger prints found on the bottles that linked to investigative police officers assigned to the investigation and the knife has no blood on it whatsoever. Perhaps if their was a parole board in the State of Illinois for youth offenders sentence to "JLWOP" I would not have had to sit behind the walls of a prison for 28 years of my life.
Making parole for those that are in the State of Illinois have not been a easy challenge for many that were sentence to long terms as C-number inmates. Willie Lewis a inmate at the Dixon Correctional Center have been incarcerated for nearly forty years of his life while John Stamps an inmate at the Illinois River Correctional Center have been incarcerated for 53 years of his life. William Bassett served 50 years in prison before being released a month ago from the Illinois Department of Corrections. While none of these men are youth offenders, it shows that it will not be a get out of prison card for ex-offenders should the State of Illinois implement a parole board for youth sentence to die in prison..
Illinois must defeat HB 5927 and allow the Illinois Supreme court decision in Davis to stand. When people are sentence to a prison it should be to make them better, however as Illinois receives a budget of 1.3 billion dollars to operate and manage its prison system it remains absent of rehabilitative programs in much as 85 percent of its prisons. The 15 percent are inmates that have have been chosen by IDOC to receive some rehabilitation, but it is often reserved for privileged inmates that are less then three years to be released. Rehabilitation in our prisons amount to inmates washing official car's, cleaning their homes, painting, cleaning highways, and attending to IDOC matters. Most vocational programs have been terminated by IDOC for allege security reasons, while it must be noted that money allotted for rehabilitation was pipeline to officials who were hired by IDOC to serve as administrators in wake of a scandal that surfaced through a video tape of a high profile alleged serial killer having sex with another inmate, having money and cocaine in clear view of the homemade sex tape made by a prisoner and turned over to CBS Chicago.
We must be realistic that sentencing a youth offender between 60 to 100 years inside a prison remain to be a death sentence for these kids. Some like Joseph Rodriguez have achieved all of its rehabilitative opportunities. He has been incarcerated since age 15 for a south side gang related double murder. Joseph has remained incarcerated since 1981 despite his denouncement of his street gang, showing remorse for his crimes, achieving an education, working in the library, serving as a guide for other young offenders to walk up right as he has used his situation to show some the errors of their lives. Joseph has been placed in a prison that once offered many rehabilitative opportunities, however today in wake of a hostage stand off and rape at the prison in May, 2006, its been the opinion of prisons to strip away most privileges depriving all inmates based off of the conduct of one. Joseph is warehoused inside his prison cell much as 19 hours a day. All he has to look forwarded to receiving is a shower, telephone call, mail, visit and walks around the prison yard. They walk in circles around the prison yard praying to some day to granted a second opportunity.