Iowa governor says juvenile murderers to serve at least 60 years

DES MOINES, Iowa Mon Jul 16, 2012 4:12pm EDT

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (L) speaks as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack looks on during a news conference at the Iowa State Capitol March 28, 2012. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (L) speaks as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack looks on during a news conference at the Iowa State Capitol March 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brian C. Frank

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DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Iowa Governor Terry Branstad on Monday said no current inmate convicted of murder as a juvenile would be released before the age of 74, a move prompted by a Supreme Court ruling that youths cannot receive mandatory life sentences.

Branstad, a Republican, commuted to a minimum of 60 years the life sentences of 38 inmates covered by last month's ruling because there was a possibility that they could receive new sentences, according to his spokesman Tim Albrecht.

A person must be at least 14 to be tried for murder as an adult in Iowa.

"The Supreme Court forced us to come up with a solution because now we have a problem; we have 38 dangerous murderers who have a chance to be re-sentenced," said Albrecht, who added that none of those inmates were close to the minimal age for parole.

"These are very, very dangerous individuals. They are violent individuals, they are murderous individuals," he said.

Twenty-nine states have laws calling for mandatory life terms for juvenile murderers. Opponents of those sentences said the Supreme Court ruling recognized that young people could change and that society could forgive the mistakes of misguided youth.

The ruling could affect some 2,000 inmates serving mandatory life terms. Albrecht said Iowa was the first state to act in response to it.

Branstad said the commutations were designed to spare family members of victims anxiety and to ensure the public's safety.

"The victims are all too often forgotten by our justice system, and are forced to re-live the pain of the tragedies," Branstad said in a statement explaining the commutation. "I take this action today to protect these victims, their loved ones' memories, and to protect the safety of all Iowans."

(Additional reporting by Kay Henderson; Reporting and Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Greg McCune and Paul Simao)

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