Thursday, November 14, 2002

Tougher law on killer sentencing sought in Ohio

Victim's mother pushes for change

By Nathan Leaf
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Chris Alford was only 15 years old when a family friend broke into his grandparents' Milford home, beat him to death with a vacuum cleaner, and set the house ablaze.

Because Ohio law limits how judges impose sentences in certain cases, the boy's killer, Randy Mills, also a convicted sex offender, could go free after 50 years.

On the second anniversary of his death, Chris' mother, Angie Wilson, joined State Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, Wednesday to introduce legislation that would make it easier for judges to give murderers who pleaded guilty life sentences without the possibility for parole.

Speaking at the Statehouse behind pictures of her dead son, Ms. Wilson said Ohio prosecutors should not have to take cases to trial in order to sentence people to life without parole.

"Two years ago today my family received the worst news that any family could receive, that our beloved Chris had been murdered," Ms. Wilson said. "The law proposed today would have been a benefit to us following Chris' murder."

In order to avoid the death penalty, Mr. Mills pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, arson and kidnapping in June 2001 as part of a plea bargain with Clermont County prosecutors. He received a life sentence with the possibility for parole in 50 years.

Ms. Schmidt said that if the murder charge had been considered alone, Mr. Mills could have been eligible for parole in 20 years.

The proposed legislation, known as the "Chris Alford Law," would allow a single judge to impose a life sentence without the possibility of parole in non-capital, aggravated murder cases that are plea bargained. Under current law, only a three-judge panel can do this.

Judges can sentence a defendant who pleads guilty to murder to life without parole only if the indictment specifically charges aggravated circumstances. Without that specification, judges must make parole available after 20 years.

"When Angie told me this, I felt there's something that had to be done," Ms. Schmidt said. She said this law will allow judges to "lock killers away for good."

Ms. Schmidt said she decided a change was needed in the law after Ms. Wilson came to her with the story of Chris' murder. Ms. Wilson also collected thousands of signatures from Southwest Ohio calling for the law to be changed.

Ms. Schmidt said because of time constraints in this fall's lame duck session of the legislature, the bill will most likely be introduced in early 2003.

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