A Missouri law taking effect this month for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder could impact dozens of cases, including Lisa Harris’. She admitted to killing John Hill, 34, in 1987. Her brother, Billy Harris, who served 15 years in prison for second-degree murder, says his sister, who was 17, took the blame for a crime that he committed.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Missouri must offer another sentencing option for juveniles guilty of first degree murder, not just life without parole. A bill passed by the legislature this year will allow a life without parole or a minimum 25-year sentence for those under 18.
Billy Harris says the law doesn’t go far enough.
“It (the law) states that they are eligible to petition the parole board for a hearing. That’s all it states. So it doesn’t state how many times they are eligible to do that, it doesn’t state that if they are denied by the parole board there are any other options for them,” says Harris. “If you’ve proven that you are not the person that committed that crime, that that was a child and that you are now an adult, at whatever stage in life you show these characteristics, the parole board should be allowed to grant you a review.”
Harris also disagrees with mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years.
“That ties everybody’s hands after you are sentenced. Even the parole board can’t object to that sentencing and give you an earlier review,” says Harris.
His sister has been in prison for 28 years.
The Harris’ were among a group of teenagers who beat Hill in his Neosho home for allegedly raping one of their friends. Billy Harris, who was 16, said he struck Hill with a hammer until Hill stopped moving.
Billy Harris argues that a juvenile’s brain isn’t fully developed, even at 16 or 17. He says young people are capable of making changes as an adult.
“Even though I had taken what most people would think of as adult actions by killing someone, I didn’t really have the mental capacity to weigh things out and to realize the ramifications and the consequences of my actions,” says Harris. “Everyone should be given a chance. I’m not saying everyone should be let out, that people’s sentences should be commuted. I’m not saying anything like that other than everyone deserves a chance to be reviewed and have their life reviewed, not their sentence.”
Lisa Harris escaped in 1991 with a group of prisoners and was captured nearly five years later in Wyoming. She is incarcerated in Chillicothe.