CHARDON - They each thought they’d seen and heard the last from T.J. Lane when he was handed a life sentence without parole for killing their three sons inside Chardon High School.
Then some politicians in Columbus came up with a bill that would cut Lane a break. The proposed law would allow Lane and other killers convicted as juveniles to be eligible for parole as soon as their 40th birthday.
Making matters worse, the bill’s primary sponsor is state Sen. John Eklund, whose district covers Chardon and Geauga County.
“We’re living a daily hell. It’s horrible,” said Dina Parmertor. “We’re living this every day without our sons. We think about this, every day, every minute.”
For the first time, the mothers of Demetrius Hewlin, Russell King Jr. and Daniel Parmertor spoke publicly, coming out together to oppose the proposed law during an exclusive interview with WKYC Channel 3 News Investigator Tom Meyer.
There are actually two competing bills that would provide parole consideration to Lane and other similarly situated prison inmates convicted as juveniles and sentenced to life in prison.
One bill, passed by the Ohio House 92-4, would allow an inmate to apply for parole after serving 35 years. The senate version is more lenient, allowing a parole visit when the inmate turns 40 years old. The Ohio Public Defender’s Office counts as many as nine inmates sentenced to life without parole. There are more than 60 inmates sentenced as juveniles with indefinite life sentences, according to a state prison spokeswoman.
Eklund said the impetus for the bills are two-fold: First, to comply with recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that found life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional. And secondly, to address emerging science showing that young minds are not fully developed until about age 30.
The senator’s explanation has not resonated with the mothers of the young men killed inside Chardon High.
The mothers believed a life sentence without parole, meant no parole. The proposed laws would change that.
“If it was his son, his child, he wouldn’t be standing behind it,” said Jeannie King, the mother of Russell King, said of Eklund’s bill.
Eklund said the bill is not designed to help Lane. He said Lane’s crimes, coupled with an escape attempt and his lack of remorse, makes it highly unlikely that a parole board would ever free him.
Nonetheless, prosecutors from across Ohio – including Geauga Prosecutor James Flaiz - have come out against the legislation. They contend the bill is unnecessary and that Ohio law already meets the standards established by the Supreme Court rulings.
Today, Chardon schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Hanlon Jr. released a statement expressing concern over the “impact this legislation had already had on current and former students and staff members, as well as the entire community.”
Hanlon urged legislators to “engage in meaningful dialogue…to the very real long-term impact that this proposed legislation will have on our school community should either bill pass in its current form.”
Today, a spokesman for the Republican Caucus said it is unlikely that either bill will be voted on by the Senate.
A vote was expected this week, but Eklund – in the wake of negative reaction - referred it back to the Criminal Justice committee that he heads.
As a result, the proposed law is expected to expire in committee when the current legislature ends this month.
To Phyllis Ferguson, whose son Demetrius died during the shooting rampage, the damage has already been done.
“I can’t go to sleep. I can’t concentrate and it’s disturbing my life more,” she said.