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“The Murderer as Victim?” screams the headline

of an editorial in the New York Post Tuesday. The story is another
urban
tragedy. Fourteen-year-old, Michael Bennett, was murdered a week ago by
being stabbed in the chest twice. Four teen-agers have been charged in
the
murder. The alleged assailant, Yassar Ashburn, 15, has been charged with

second-degree murder, while three of the accomplices have been charged
with manslaughter and
assault.

Amazingly someone in the press has recognized that too many among
us care more for the criminals than about the victim and the victim’s
family.
The catalyst for the editorial was that “a community activist” after the
murder
“expressed his sorrow … for Ashburn and his alleged accomplices.”

Yet most editorials are pro-criminal and last week the Toledo Blade
Opinion Editorial Board delivered another anti-tough-sentencing
diatribe.
The editorial, “Three Strikes Too Harsh?,” uses the refusal of the
Supreme
Court to hear the appeal of Michael Riggs who is serving time under the
California Three Strikes law as the catalyst for bewailing mandatory
laws. The editorial opines that Riggs who was sentenced to 25-to-life
for stealing vitamins really was a “victim” of the California law.
Despite the fact that Riggs was and is a habitual criminal with a long
criminal record, the editorial yearns for the time that judges are not
put in a “straitjacket” but will again have discretionary authority when
handing out criminal sentences.

The Toledo Blade Opinion seems to overlook that first in Washington
State and then in California the people voted for Three Strikes laws
because judges’ discretionary authority allowed too many murderers and
violent predators to go back to the streets and claim more victims.
Americans believed that if you took these hardened criminals off the
streets and put them where they belonged behind bars, their communities
would be safer. And now, five years since Washington passed the first
Three Strikes law, crime rates have dropped.

Meanwhile the good people in Illinois are facing an unbelievable
horror. Less than three weeks ago their Supreme Court invalidated that
state’s truth-in-sentencing law and as a result at least 47 violent
criminals were released onto Illinois streets last week. Illinois Chief
Justice Charles
Freeman authored the ruling, which overturned the truth-in-sentencing
law
on a technicality. Similar laws have been adopted by 27 states and the
District of Columbia. Technicality or not, victim’s families in Illinois
are now
living in fear and looking over their shoulders day and night. The
story in the Chicago Sun-Times
quotes Theresa Rosa, the
mother of a victim of kidnapping, as saying, “I am scared, I’m sure (my
daughter) is, too.”

The public wants truth-in-sentencing and three strikes laws. In
fact Georgia’s former Gov. Zell Miller ingratiated himself with the
citizenry when he promoted and passed a Two Strikes Law. Crime is down
and the public credits laws that are tough on criminals. It’s a simple
solution: keep violent criminals behind bars and then fewer and fewer
Americans become victims.

Yet, only 14 states have gone a step further and abolished parole
for violent criminals. Former Gov. George Allen of Virginia, a leader in

parole abolishment, credits his campaign to abolish parole as a winning
factor in his 1993 election. During Allen’s term Virginia not only
passed a law
to abolish parole, but passed a truth-in-sentencing law. Yet,
unfortunately
even in Virginia convicted killers are still being considered for
parole.

In the next few months two convicted killers in Virginia will be up
for
parole. The families of the victims will have to relive the nightmare of

the murder and the anguish of the trail. And just like Theresa Rosa of
Illinois they will have to live with the fear of the murderer being
free.

Mark Alan Koper was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder of
his
six-month pregnant wife plus an additional two years for the felonious
use
of a firearm. Mr. Koper shot Tammy Crossley Koper in the back of the
head in front of their 18-month-old daughter in 1990. After he shot his
wife, he placed her body into the trunk of their car, and dumped the
body into a wooded area. He then cleaned the car, cleaned himself and
dined with another woman in his home the very same evening. After the
body was found he pled guilty to first-degree murder. In the ensuing 8
plus years he has served about 11 percent of his 60-year sentence and is
again eligible for a second parole hearing. At his first parole hearing
last year the Parole Board could have delayed his next hearing for three
years as well as denying his parole, but they chose only to deny parole,
thereby giving Koper his second chance at a parole in as many years.

The second killer who has a date with the parole board is Jackson
D. Shifflet, Sr. Mr. Shiflett, like Michael Koper, decided to kill a
family
member, his daughter, and set a trap to do so. In executing his plan he
killed two other people, Michael Shafer and Denvil Mason. If his
daughter, who was severely injured by fragments, had not retrieved a .32
caliber pistol from the backseat of the car and shot her father, she,
too, would have been
murdered. Although Shifflet still denies his guilt, he was sentenced to
two life sentences for two counts of murder, 20 years for malicious
wounding, and two years for using a firearm.

Unfortunately Virginia passed its truth in sentencing law after
these killers committed their heinous crimes. Otherwise, neither would
be
eligible for parole until the year 2040. All the victims in the Koper,
Shifflett,
Shafer and Mason families are praying that these killers are not set
free
and have asked that fellow Virginians and others help by petitioning the

Virginia Parole Board to deny and delay the parole of these two killers.
You can write directly to John R. Alderman, chairman of the Virginia
Parole Board at 6900 Atmore Drive, Richmond, VA 23225. Please include
the murderer’s name and ID# in any correspondence. Mr. Mark Alan Roper
is prisoner ID #183116 and Jackson David Shiflett, Sr. is prisoner ID
#119710.

It’s past time to stop coddling murders and violent criminals. If
you live in Illinois, contact your legislators and demand that they pass
a
truth-in-sentencing law that meets the constitutionality demanded by
Chief
Justice Freeman. Do it for Theresa Rosa, her daughter, and the victims
of
the 2,600 violent criminals who will be released in Illinois this year.
After
all, the next victim of a released or paroled killer could be you or
someone you love.

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