FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : Thursday, July 05, 2012
CONTACT: Sara Rabern, (605) 773-3215
Mandatory Life Sentences for Juveniles Committing Murder in South Dakota
PIERRE, S.D. – Attorney General Marty J. Jackley, with the assistance of South Dakota Department of Corrections officials, has identified three inmates that are serving mandatory life sentences for murders committed when they were under the age of 18. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision holds that mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders is now unconstitutional. In Miller v. Alabama the Court held that a mandatory sentencing scheme improperly prevented the Court from considering the age of juvenile offenders when determining the appropriate sentence. The Court concluded that a severe punishment for murder, including life without possibility of parole, may still be imposed on juvenile offenders. However, only if circumstances, such as the youth of the offender, are considered when determining the appropriate sentence.
South Dakota followed the majority rule of 28 States and the Federal Government which allowed mandatory life-without parole terms for juveniles convicted of murder. As stated by Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion, this decision may affect nearly 2,500 state and federal prisoners presently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murders they committed before the age of 18.
The three South Dakota inmates serving mandatory life sentences for murders committed when they were under 18 are Paul D. Jensen, Daniel N. Charles and Jessi Owens.
Then, fourteen-year-old Jensen was convicted by a jury of first degree murder for the 1996 death of Michael Hare, a Pierre, South Dakota taxicab driver. Jensen kidnapped, robbed, and murdered Hare for his cab fare, a total of $36.48. According to the South Dakota Supreme Court, “Jensen shot the victim once in the chest, listened to the victim plead for his life on his knees, and then proceeded to shoot the man two more times in the head. A more senseless act of violence by one human being against another is hard to imagine.” Jensen is also serving a life sentence for kidnapping Hare. State officials believe Jensen’s kidnapping sentence is constitutional under the recent United States Supreme Court decision because it was not a mandatory sentence, but a maximum sentence imposed based upon the severity of Jensen’s crime.
Then, seventeen-year-old Jessi Owens pleaded guilty to second degree murder for the 1998 death of David Paul Bauman. Owens and then nineteen-year-old Renee Eckes went to Bauman’s house to steal $9,000. Bauman discovered Owens and Eckes and a struggle ensued. According to the South Dakota Supreme Court “Owens used a hammer that Eckes threw to her to hit Bauman in the head several times.” Bauman was found dead the next day.
Then, fourteen-year-old Daniel Charles was convicted by a jury of first degree murder for the 1999 death of his stepfather Duane Ingalls. With a high powered rifle, Charles laid in wait behind his upstairs bedroom window, watching for his stepfather. When Ingalls returned home, Charles shot him in the head. The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld Charles’ conviction, relying on testimony from the trial, showing “Charles indicated he purposely killed Ingalls,” and that “Charles had contemplated other ways to kill Ingalls.” The Court noted that the jury also heard “testimony that Charles dragged Ingalls’ body into the garage and shut the door, cleaned the blood off the sidewalk and cleaned the clothing he had worn.”
The Miller decision may not impact the mandatory life sentences imposed on Jensen, Charles and Owens. Courts must determine if the decision retroactively applies to juveniles previously sentenced to life imprisonment. If determined retroactive, a separate sentencing determination consistent with the direction set forth in the Miller decision will be required.