Rose Whitrock of St. Louis is undecided about a state law that will make Missouri compliant with federal sentencing laws for juveniles guilty of first-degree murder. Whitrock’s 34-year-old daughter, Gina Stallis, was shot and killed in an October 2009 home invasion in St. Louis. Two others were also seriously injured after being shot in the incident.
Ledale Nathan, Jr., who was 16 years old at the time, and his accomplice, Mario Coleman, were convicted of several charges stemming from that night, including murder, assault and robbery. They are still serving time in a Missouri prison.
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. The legislature passed a measure during this year’s regular session that allows a life without parole or a minimum 25-year sentence for those under 18. Whitrock, her mother, nephew and his girlfriend, Stallis and Stallis’ two young children were all in the home when Nathan and Coleman forced their way in and terrorized the family for about 20 minutes. Whitrock says Nathan held a gun to the head of her 78-year-old mother and threatened to kill them.
Whitrock’s nephew, Nick Koenig, was shot three times and Nick’s girlfriend, Isabella Lovadina, was shot five times. Stallis was killed by one bullet that entered her cheek and passed through her torso.
“They (Nathan and Coleman) just stuffed it all away for a $10 watch and a couple of cell phones,” says Whitrock.
Lovadina was a St. Louis police officer and Koenig was a firefighter at the time. Lovadina was not able to return to the police force after the incident.
A jury found Nathan guilty of second-degree murder. Whitrock calls the jury’s decision offensive.
“I feel like the criminals are treated like the victims and the victims are not treated like the victims. It’s just trial after trial. It’s tax dollars. I’m all about a fair trial,” says Whitrock. “I think we have a good justice system, but when your DNA is in my house and your hat is in my house, you came in uninvited and you had guns, then you’re guilty. I don’t even know why we had a trial. It’s been really hard and I’m really hoping that other families don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through with these trials and just reliving everything.”
Whitrock and her family no longer live in the home where the invasion occurred. Whitrock is raising Stallis’ two sons, who were 7 and 9 at the time of the incident. The boys have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and have received extensive counseling.
She is concerned the new state law will allow some juveniles convicted of murder to get out of jail sooner than she feels they should.
“I think that every case has to be looked at individually because I do believe that there are some cases where life without parole doesn’t apply,” says Whitrock. “I hope that the judges and the prosecutors can do their jobs and they can judge who deserves to be there, and the juries. Are they violent? Can you rehab them? Do they deserve to get out in 50 or 60 years? I’m happy that the prosecutors have something to work with. I think it could be dangerous for kids that can’t be helped but I also think it’s good for kids who can be.”
She feels like the legislation was result of “wheeling and dealing” by lobbyists and state lawmakers.
“I think when it comes to laws like this that effect the citizens of our state, it should be taken seriously,” says Whitrock. “You’re playing with people’s lives. I think when it comes to citizens and their safety, then they need to take these bills more serious.”
The Missouri law takes effect August 28.