A proposed new Ohio law — named for a teenage murder victim in Warren County — would add penalties designed to deter young killers and save lives.
Justin’s Law, a bill drafted by Rep. Ron Maag, R-Salem Twp., is the result of lobbying and research by Sandy and Mark Cates, the parents of Justin Back, 18.
He was stabbed to death on Jan. 28 in the kitchen of their home outside Waynesville. A safe and other personal property were stolen, and the body was dumped in Preble County, as part of a scheme designed to make the Cateses think that Back had run away.
Under Ohio law, adult inmates serving prison terms for aggravated murder become eligible for parole as soon as 25 years after sentencing.
“It just really floored us, they could come up for parole in 25 years,” Sandy Cates said.
According to federal crime statistics, 12.4 percent of murder victims in 2010 were teenagers and more than 70 percent of violent offenders commit another crime within five years.
Next week, two 19-year-old Clayton men are to be sentenced in connection with Back’s murder. On Thursday, Judge Donald Oda II is scheduled to sentence Austin Myers for other crimes he was convicted of during the capital murder case that concluded last week and decide whether to impose the death penalty. On Friday, Timothy Mosley is to enter his plea, sealing an agreement he reached with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against Myers. He is to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
To be convicted of aggravated murder, prosecutors need to prove certain elements, including that the defendant planned the crime and committed another felony in addition to murder.
Justin’s Law would add 35, 45 and 55-year mandatory prison terms to the range of sentences available in aggravated murder cases. The Cateses also want to allow for the sentencing of juveniles convicted of aggravated murder to life without parole.
The Cateses hope tougher sentences will give pause to teen killers and delay or reduce the number of crimes committed by parolees.
“If we can at least save one life, Justin didn’t die in vain,” Cates said.
The draft bill is the result of discussions between the Cateses, Maag and representatives from the governor’s and attorney general’s office. Both offices declined to comment on the draft legislation.
Maag said he planned to introduce Justin’s Law , but declined to predict whether it would become law.
Justin’s Law is part of a broader campaign by the Cateses to remember their son and help others left to carry on after the loss of a loved one. They are developing a website, www.rememberingjustin.net, where they blog and offer resources for people in the grieving process.
“Maybe there’s something we can do to keep this from happening to another young person,” Cates said.