During Colorado’s 2011 legislative session, a bill to lower life sentences for juveniles was introduced by a coalition of advocates. As explained in previous posts, HB-1287 was not a Pendulum Foundation bill. Our amendments were removed before the bill ever reached a hearing. While we always support any sentencing reform bills we did not testify at or attend the hearing. (Not distancing ourselves from all the great work of those who did. Just clarifying in light of subsequent events.)
–Mary Ellen Johnson, Pendulum Foundation
The Letter From COVA
… HB 1287 would have retroactively paroled convicted murderers who are sentenced to natural life sentences in Colorado. Victims’ families who would have been directly affected by this legislation were NOT notified of the hearing. Two days before the hearing, a few victims’ family members were found by prosecutors who heard of this “sneak attack” bill and were able to testify in opposition. Victims who could not come raised objections to the violations of their constitutional rights to be notified and heard. The Attorney General’s office testified that the bill was likely unconstitutional because of its retroactivity and violations of the separation of powers provisions to the Constitution.Some of the offenders that this legislation would offer early release to are cop-killers. Some murdered toddlers as young as 3 years-old, and others murdered 87 and 93 year-old women. Some raped and tortured young women before murdering them. Others killed their whole families. One of the offenders – Erik Jensen – comes from a wealthy family. He threatened his parents that if they did not get him out of prison in 10 years, he would kill himself. They have sunk everything into creating the Pendulum Foundation, which is focused just on getting him out. (Emphasis added)
HB 1287 was their latest effort. It died in committee yesterday 6-5 with Rep Duran’s help.
Today she is being bombarded by phone calls from offender advocates. PLEASE call her to thank her for supporting victims’ rights, public safety, and justice. Tell her to stand strong. They are trying to get her to change her vote. She is a first term legislator who is only 30 years old and is under tremendous pressure right now. Please deluge her with calls and letters of support from all over. Again, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-866-2925.
We who have seen the horror of murder have to be stronger and louder now than those who work to free these killers and to deliberately re-traumatize the families of murder victims.
Executive Director of COVA
Pendulum’s Response to COVA
We at The Pendulum Foundation have always tried to be sensitive in our speech and in our writing regarding the difficult issue of juveniles serving life without parole. We have tried never to demonize those who disagree with us. I am shocked and really, really angered that you went beyond advocacy and professionalism in your recent letter urging your constituency to vote against HB-1287.
First of all, your call to action was filled with erroneous information, and in at least one case, an outright lie.
1)It is not up to us to notify YOU of any bill. You don’t notify us of your bills, nor should you have to. District Attorneys often say they speak for the victims and Reps. Levy and Nikkel talked with them often about HB-1287. If the DAs did not share that information with you, they weren’t doing their job. Our understanding is that you are largely funded by prosecutors. That would further highlight their failing, and not ours. There is a process of notification for victims and it is not that The Pendulum Foundation or advocates notify you.
2) When we first started trying to pass legislation, we talked to COVA. We brought them to the table in 2005, when we were hoping to pass a comprehensive bill on sentencing reform. We had specifically written a section on restorative justice and voluntary victim-offender mediation. Members of COVA and other victims said, “Absolutely not.” They would never agree to a mandatory provision. When we pointed out such mediation was voluntary and asked them to offer THEIR suggestions, they, like the DAs, declined. COVA, other victims, and prosecutors all said, “The system Is working perfectly.” Not only were no changes necessary, they would fight anything we brought forward.
We tried pre and post 2005. The answer was always no. After 2006, we didn’t run a bill. This year your advocates were notified well in advance via the District Attorneys. That is hardly a “sneak attack.”
Furthermore, because we didn’t talk to you doesn’t mean we didn’t talk to victims. We did, just apparently not victims that you find acceptable. You do NOT speak for all victims, and all victims do not oppose this bill.
3) The assertion that truly angered me was the following:
“One of the offenders – Erik Jensen – comes from a wealthy family. He threatened his parents that if they did not get him out of prison in 10 years, he would kill himself. They have sunk everything into creating the Pendulum Foundation, which is focused just on getting him out.”
Erik Jensen never threatened his parents or uttered any of the rest of your nonsense. Didn’t happen. You took quotes out of context, jammed and twisted them together and came up with something that is flat untrue. Furthermore, The Pendulum Foundation was never created solely to get the Jensens’ son out. Had that been the case, their money could have been much better spent on selfishly focusing their energy on Erik. If you’d like to know about all the other things The Pendulum Foundation has done, such as college scholarships, prison programs, etc. , you might do further investigation. The Jensens and/or I would be happy to talk to you about us and what we do. Feel free to ask any question you like of us.
4) When you talk about these offenders, we’ve never said that ALL these kids should be released — or even most. All we’re asking for is a chance for some. While you seem to trust the system when it arrests, convicts and sentences people, that trust doesn’t seem to extend to parole. You know the stats better than I do. Which means you know the chances of any of these kids re-entering society is slim to nil. We are offering hope.
That is all.
This system is broken for everyone. District attorneys aren’t infallible. Defense attorneys can be incompetent. Offenders CAN be innocent, as well as monsters. And finally, those who lost their loved ones should be given an alternative for healing other than simply punishment. We need more options, more ways to achieve justice rather than fewer.
We will continue to reach out to victims. I’ve contacted Rep. Duran. Even though she didn’t return my calls, I’m willing to meet with her and anyone else. The Colorado Juvenile Defenders Coalition is also working on victims’ meetings; I am discussing with certain victims ways to reach out to those at the hearing and to open up communication, not to pass a bill but to begin the journey toward peace and healingl. Finally, The Pendulum Foundation has strongly supported the restorative justice bills and has fought behind the scenes to get restorative justice into prisons.
In conclusion, we may never agree on a specific bill, but we may be able to find other common ground if we stick to facts, rather than fear and over-the-top rhetoric. Please extend us the courtesy to disagree on the merits and never again descend to ad hominem attacks or outright dishonesty.
Mary Ellen Johnson
by Alan Prendergast