Locals fight juvenile sentencing bill
Last updated 3/8/2021 at 9:53am
CLOVIS — Survivors of the 2017 shooting at the Clovis-Carver Public Library, and those who still remember the two library workers killed that day, will never forget that dreadful August afternoon or the court hearings that put shooter Nathaniel Jouett in prison for 30 years before the possibility of parole.
They’re now fighting the New Mexico Legislature on Senate Bill 247 — a measure that would in the worst case reduce Jouett’s sentence to 15 years and in the best case make them relive that fateful day in parole hearings every two years.
A life sentence in New Mexico is defined at 30 years in prison before the possibility of parole, and is normally followed by additional time for connected charges.
Senate Bill 247, as currently amended, would provide juvenile offenders serving a life sentence that parole hearing in 15 years instead. If parole is denied at that time, additional parole opportunities would be available every two years.
“Right now, a child is treated like an adult and has to wait 30 years,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, one of two sponsors for SB 247. “What we’re trying (to do is based) on the theory a child is more amenable to being rehabilitated. The theory is you could rehabilitate a child more easily than you could an adult. After 15 years, it’s possible the child has changed.”
For opposition voices in Clovis, nothing has changed since the day Jouett entered the library and fired 14 shots in six seconds — killing Krissie Carter and Wanda Walters and injuring four others.
Jessica Thron, a former employee and one of the four injured, started an “Oppose New Mexico SB247” page on Facebook which had acquired over 100 members since its Sunday launch. Three years and six months since the shooting, Thron still suffers from nerve damage in her finger and bullet fragments remain in her shoulder.
But losing Carter and Walters still hurt the most.
It wasn’t long into Thron’s six years at the library that Carter and Walters sniffed out her playful habit of calling each “my favorite work mom” depending on who she needed a favor from that day. They never told her no, and Thron believes no matter what hurt Jouett was feeling, he could have just went to either one and they would have done anything to help him.
“But he didn’t decide to do that,” she said.
When the plea deal was reached — two life sentences for the killings, followed by 40 years for the other connected charges — Thron was upset the murders didn’t count for more of the sentence. Now, she fears either Jouett gets freed in 15 years, or she and other victims have to tell the same story to a new parole board every two years.
“We’re never going to forget it, but you’re just opening that wound every two years,” Thron said. “That just doesn’t seem fair.”
Mandie Walters, Wanda’s daughter, lives in Washington state and recalls putting her life on hold for a week at a time because she was compelled to make sure justice was served.
“I feel like he was already sentenced pretty lightly for what he did,” Walters said. “My thinking is if we’re trusting the justice system, why aren’t we trusting what the system has already decided?”
When asked about trusting the justice system, Sedillo Lopez said “the justice system is limited by our laws” and noted cases where a judge believed a child was rehabilitated but existing law left him unable to alter the sentence.
“The idea is an independent person will see whether this child has been rehabilitated,” Sedillo Lopez said. “Some people will not be rehabilitated, and those individuals — after (receiving) that independent look — will stay.”
Sedillo Lopez said she is open to amendments based on citizen feedback, and that the original bill has already been modified from a 10-year wait for parole to 15. She doesn’t believe Jouett would see parole, given the heinous nature of the shooting, but said an independent party should be the one to make that decision.
Matt Baca, chief counsel for the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, said SB 247 raises several concerns for the state and victims of crime and their families.
“We do not support an automatic two year parole review,” Baca told The News, “and the Legislature must carefully balance protecting victims and families traumatized by violence, while improving long term mental health treatment options for violent offenders in a safer way that does not re-traumatize these survivor families.”
District Attorney Andrea Reeb also opposes the bill, and doesn’t see why the shooting should be viewed differently if it was committed by an 18-year-old or somebody just a few months shy of turning 18 who knows right from wrong.
Reeb doesn’t believe Jouett would be granted parole, but no lawyer could be 100% certain of what a jury or parole board would say.
“It’s so hard to tell,” Reeb said. “I don’t know the makeup of the parole board. I feel in his case it was premeditated, we have the tape and I know the victims disagree strongly (with release) and would speak out. But your guess is as good as mine.”