Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Local Leaders Rally to Support Efren Paredes, Jr.
by Juliana Birnbaum Fox
The Bay Area has become an active center of support for Michigan inmate Efren Paredes, Jr., convicted in 1989 and sentenced to life at the age of 15 for a murder he still maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence linking Efren to the crime, nor any eyewitnesses, and his family maintains that he was home with them when the murder occurred.
Over the past decades, Paredes, now 35, has become a symbol for prison system reform in cases involving juveniles. His parole appeal is currently being considered by a state commission.
“Paredes’ sentence as a juvenile to life in prison without parole (JLWOP) violates human rights legal standards,” reads a letter from the Berkeley City Council to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. The letter mentions the questionable circumstances that led to Paredes’ conviction, and his leadership and positive contribution to society despite his 20 years of incarceration. “For this country to be the lone holdout on the issue of JLWOP weakens our moral and legal standing in the international community,” the letter continues, urging a ban on the practice. The city council adopted a resolution condemning Paredes’ sentence as a human rights violation in February of this year.
Despite being an honor student and having no prior convictions, the judge in Paredes’ case exercised his option to sentence him as an adult because of his apparent lack of remorse for the crime, which involved an armed robbery and murder at a store where Paredes worked. All of the other defendants in the case pleaded guilty in exchange for plea bargains, and have since been released from prison.
Local activist Elizabeth “Betita” Martínez, director of the Institute for Multi-Racial Justice, wrote in her support letter for Paredes, points out the larger systemic issue of injustice imposed upon the Latino community in the court system.
“Mr. Paredes’ trial attorney had advised him to show no emotion during his trial, which had a very negative effect on the sentencing phase,” Martinez writes. “Until recently the attorney always denied giving this advice. However, he has now admitted it, a fact that is included in Mr. Paredes’ current appeal.”
Michigan has sentenced more juveniles to life in prison without parole than any other state except Pennsylvania, according to a 2007 UCSF study, "Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison." Currently local Paredes supporters are also calling attention to the fact that California has 277 such individuals are serving these sentences in the state. The United States is the only nation that imprisons juveniles for life.
“For many children, [life without parole] is an effective death sentence carried out by the state slowly over a long period of time,” said Michelle Leighton, chief author of the study. Life terms also fall disproportionately on youths of color, with blacks 20 times more likely to receive such a sentence in California.
The UCSF report asserts that trying children and teenagers in adult courts does not take into account several important factors: the bigger potential for rehabilitation and reintegration into society; their ineptness at navigating the criminal justice system, and their lessened culpability as compared with adult offenders.
“It’s a local issue to us,” said Wendy Kenin of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission. “This gives us an opportunity to weigh into take a stand on the issue of juvenile sentences of life without parole.”
The board will be making a recommendation to the Governor’s Office about Paredes’s release in the coming weeks. The Governor will render the final decision. Generally these decisions are made within a few months, but there is no official timetable.
This article appeared on the front page of El Reportero, Vol. 19, No. 6. The original article included Israel as a nation that imprisons juveniles to life in prison. That statement has been removed from this re-post becuase it is inaccurate. The US is the only country in the world imposing the sentence. Click here to view the PDF version of this file as it originally appeared in print.