Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By: Sayre Quevedo
This week's 5-4 Supreme Court decision struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder. It's estimated more than 2000 felons already in prison across the country could be affected. In Michigan, a state with one of the largest numbers of people who could be impacted by the ruling, Efren Paredes Jr. was waiting patiently on the ruling.
Efren Paredes Jr. says he's been reading every amicus brief leading up to this week's Supreme Court ruling, hoping to find a way out of his sentence of life without parole. Peredes is 40 now, and was 16 years-old when he was convicted of murder. At 10 AM Monday in the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, Paredes says he was glued to the TV.
"I was in my cell," he said, "I was in the prison cell watching the television. The immediate response was excitement. I smiled. I was really happy about the decision."
Paredes was a teenager when he was sentenced to life without parole in 1989, for the murder of his boss, Rick Tetzlaff, a manager at the grocery store where he worked in St. Joseph,Michigan. He claims he was framed by three teens who all took plea deals and got off on shorter sentences. Around the country, Latino civil rights activists have taken up his cause believing his innocence. But until this week, efforts to free Paredes have fallen short.
With the Supreme Court's ruling, Paredes is now hoping to have his former attorney Stuart Friedman bring his case back to court for resentencing or to apply for parole. But Friedman says there are still a lot of unknowns. He said, "The best case scenario is that he could be home within a year, but you know I don't want to count my chickens before they're hatched and I'm not telling him to start packing yet either."
Michigan State officials say they're working on a plan to move forward based on the Supreme Court's ruling. It's unclear whether felons who were convicted as juveniles, will even been eligible for resentencing, but many legal experts think they will. Though, even if they are resentenced, they could end up getting life without parole all over again.
While optimistic, Efren Paredes is still trying to figure out how the ruling might affect his fate, "You know for me specifically it's been 23 years. I think it's overwhelming. There's so many
different things that have to be done now and none of them are going to be easy. So those are the things now that are on my mind."
Of the roughly 2100 prisoners nationally who could be impacted by the Supreme Court ruling, most will need representation to figure out their status. Alicia D'Addario was co-counsel on the case decided by the Supreme Court this week and she expects this issue of available and affordable counsel to be a big one, especially in states like Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Michigan."One of the big challenges will actually be finding counsel for all of those folks," she said, "Many of these people are in states where there is no right to counsel for that kind of proceeding, and so one of the unexpected things going forward is that these children are going to be desperately in need of lawyers."
Michael Sepic was the Michigan prosecutor in Efren Paredes' case. If given the chance, he says he'dargue for the same sentence all over again because he believes Paredes acted as an adult. Paredes has maintained his innocence from day one. Despite what the Supreme Court ruled this week, Sepic's greatest concern is not for those convicted but for the families of victims. "It just opens open these wounds to victims who basically, in short, were told that this person that killed their loved one would be in prison for the rest of their life," he said when asked about the ruling this week.
In response to the ruling, the Michigan Attorney General 's office says its committed to working with prosecutors around the state, to make sure that victim's families are able to tell their side of the story during future resentencing hearings. The family of Rick Tetzlaff, the man murdered in the Paredes case, declined interview requests, but its families like theirs that will be asked to break their silence during resentencing, as prosecutors call upon them to make statements.
Recent public opinion surveys 1show a majority of Americans believe that teenagers can be rehabilitated and they want sentencing to reflect that. This week a majority of Supreme Court Justices agreed.
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