My name is Jessica Thron, and I am a survivor of the mass shooting that took place at Clovis-Carver Public Library. On August 28, 2017, a 16-year-old came into my workplace with a backpack containing two handguns and multiple magazines. He was angry with the world for being suspended from school and decided people needed to pay — with their lives. He overslept that day, so he didn’t get to exact his revenge at the high school like he originally intended. He settled on the local public library.
I suppose we were all soft targets: women, children, elderly, etc. He gave us no warning. Within six seconds, he unloaded 14 gunshots killing two people (very close friends of mine, Wanda and Krissie), injuring four (myself and a 10-year-old boy included), and traumatized countless others. He was eventually sentenced as an adult to two life sentences plus 40 years served concurrently with good time. Meaning, at the time of sentencing, he will be eligible for parole in 2051.
I remember thinking how shameful it was that a murderer of two wonderful women would only be required to give a little over 30 years of his life in exchange for the beautiful lives he callously took. Little did I know of the legislators in this state who would like to see juvenile murderers and rapists serve even less time.
New Mexico Senate Bill 247 (S.B. 247) will soon be heard before the House. If this bill is passed and made law, it will greatly impact victims who have suffered horrendous crimes as well as family members who have lost loved ones at the hands of juvenile offenders. SB247 mandates that criminals who committed crimes as juveniles and were sentenced as adults will be eligible for parole after serving 15 years. If denied parole, they will be allowed to go before the parole board every 5 years until they are released.
The nature of this proposed bill will take no account whatsoever of the severity of the offender’s crime. The parole board can consider it, but the law will require the murderer to be given a parole hearing. If passed, Nathaniel Jouett who shot and injured me along with three others and killed two women will possibly be released in a mere 11 ½ years. How is that justice? I remember when Nathaniel was sentenced thinking how I would be in my 60s when he would be eligible for parole. As much as I disagreed with the length of his sentence, I would have around 33 years to heal before facing him again. But, no… for some reason, certain legislators think it’s more important that these criminals who committed heinous acts deserve a life outside of prison as soon as possible.
They tout that these sentences are considered excessively long for children, even 15 years. Senator Sedillo Lopez (D-Bernalillo), the bill’s sponsor, argues that if a 15-year-old “child” has to serve 15 years until released, that sentence is over half of the individual’s life. She needs to understand that the average lifespan in the United States is 78.54 years. If a juvenile murderer lives to be that age, he/she will have only spent 19% of their life in prison, not half of their life… not even a quarter. Are the two lives of my murdered friends, who had many more years to live, that invaluable?
Moreover, S.B. 247 has flown through the committees with little discussion surrounding it regardless of its significant impact on society. I have been silenced and told that I can just put my head in the sand concerning the aftereffects of this bill if passed, thanks to Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Bernalillo). Victims have not even been consulted in reference to this bill, although the sponsor is saying the opposite. I have witnessed the sponsor of this bill not have her documentation submitted in a timely manner and given allowances. Senator Ortiz y Pino told us we would have an opportunity to speak on the House floor, which was untrue. Elected legislators are put in place by the people to represent the people, but we are not being represented. In fact, I am being made to feel that I am the one who has done something wrong.
I have lived and survived a trauma that no person should ever have to endure. I braved dark days after the shooting which included surgery, the funerals of my murdered friends, PTSD, and other obstacles. Finally, I was at a manageable place with my trauma. But now I feel as if the State of New Mexico, a place I have called home my whole life, has turned its back on me and other victims. My thoughts and concerns have been completely discarded by the legislature these past few weeks. This is not about vengeance. We are asking for time. We are asking to be heard. Please help us make New Mexico communities aware of what certain legislators are trying to do behind their backs. We deserve more from our elected officials.