EDITORIALS: Wyoming Paper Recommends Life Sentences for Sake of Victims

Wyoming's Casper Star-Tribune recently pointed out why many families of murder victims favor life-without-parole sentences over the death penalty . "[I]t may be a surprise that many families of murder victims prefer the life without parole sentence, simply because it puts the killer away forever without the decades-long court appeals that can accompany a death sentence," the paper wrote. The editorial noted that there is only one person on the state's death row, and he is there for a crime committed 25 years ago. Attention to the case often focuses on the defendant rather than the victim. Read the editorial below.

Life without parole a better choice for many families of victims

When the two young Cody men who gunned down three members of a family in Clark received sentences of life without parole instead of the death penalty, some questioned if that was a just sentence for such a cold-blooded crime.

But it may be a surprise that many families of murder victims prefer the life without parole sentence, simply because it puts the killer away forever without the decades-long court appeals that can accompany a death sentence.

The life without parole sentences mean that Tanner Vanpelt and Stephen Hammer will not be able to get out of prison – ever. The two, both 19 when the murders were committed, pleaded guilty to killing Ildiko Freitas, 40, and her parents, 70-year-old Janos Volgyesi and 69-year-old HIldegard Volgyesi on March 2. Prosecutors said that the teens had stolen guns from a Cody pawn shop and came to the home of their victims to steal a car.

The Powell Tribune reported that Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric agreed to seek life sentences instead of the death penalty, with the agreement of law enforcement and Freitas' family. The sentences for Vanpelt and Hammer, imposed by District Court Judge Steven Cranfill were the result of a plea agreement. Skoric could have chosen to pursue the death penalty, but agreed to life sentences with the support of the family of the three victims

Thomas Volgyesi, the younger brother of one murder victim and son of the other two, said in court that while the two 19-year-old killers deserved the death penalty, he supported the life without parole sentence, saying that execution would not bring him any closure.

Years of pain for survivors
The family of Lisa Marie Kimmell is still hearing about the man who killed 18-year-old Kimmell and dumped her body in the North Platte River 25 years ago.

Dale Wayne Eaton is the only person on Wyoming's death row for the murder, but appeals to the death sentence will continue into 2014, when a federal judge will rule on Eaton's challenge to the constitutionality of his death sentence.

The 40th anniversary of the Fremont Canyon crimes against Becky Thomson and her sister Amy Burridge on Sept. 24 reminded us of how the possibility of parole for the men who committed the crimes tortured the survivor for years.

Both sisters were thrown from the 100-foot plus bridge in Fremont Canyon, killing 11-year-old Burridge on impact.

It was Thomson who survived the fall with her hip broken in five places and climbed out of the canyon after hiding during the night from the killers. She lived to testify against Ronald Leroy Kennedy and Jerry Lee Jenkins and they were given the death penalty.

The two, in their late 20s the night of the crimes, were convicted of first-degree murder, rape, and assault and battery. Their death sentences were reduced to life in prison in 1977 when the Wyoming Supreme Court overturned the state's death penalty.

Thomson then faced another steep climb to survive the fear she battled that the killers would be paroled after their death penalties were commuted to life in prison.

She talked publicly about her fears that the men, who she said appeared to threaten her in court when she testified against them, would get out of prison and come to finish their attempt to kill her.

She had testified against them both, and she said Kennedy mocked her by grinning and drawing his finger across his throat.

As Kennedy appealed his conviction and legally required parole hearings occurred, Thomson collected boxes and boxes of petition signatures against parole.

Those petitions were part of the discussion when Wyoming did enact a law creating a life without parole sentence in 2001. By then Thomson had been dead for nine years, after either falling or jumping from the same Fremont Canyon Bridge.

Victims and their families now in Wyoming have something that Thomson didn't -- the possility of a life sentence without parole and whatever reassurance it may give them.

("Life without parole a better choice for many families of victims," Casper Star-Tribune, Editorial, October 9, 2013). See Life Without Parole, Victims, and Editorials.