Teen convicted of killing store clerks to be re-sentenced

12:20 PM, Nov 12, 2013   |    comments
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CLEAR LAKE, Iowa -- Two years ago a judge sentenced Michael Swanson to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Now the St. Louis Park teenager is set to return to the courtroom.

Swanson was 17 years old when he drove to Iowa and killed two gas station clerks.

Sheila Myers was just getting ready to end her shift on November 15, 2010, when Swanson shot and killed her from close range.

Sheila's daughter Mandy Myers says there isn't a day that goes by that without missing her mother.

Mandy will soon be forced back into a courtroom to confront the young adult convicted of killing her mother. "He has no idea who she was and who he took from us, I don't know if he ever will," she explained.

Swanson was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole months, but a year after sentencing, a Supreme Court decision made that sentence invalid.  

The high court decided sentencing a teen to life without the possibility of parole was unjust; that it violates the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment. The legal journey for Mandy Myers would start all over again.

On July 16th, 2012, she stood beside Iowa's Governor, who commuted the sentences for 38 juvenile offenders serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Governor Terry Branstad announced those inmates couldn't get a parole hearing for 60 years, all but ensuring they would serve "life sentences."

"We were worried that there was a possibility of parole and we didn't want that," Mandy Myers told the Des Moines media during a news conference. A year later, the state public defender's office would file a motion to correct an illegal sentence in Humboldt County Court, on behalf of Michael Swanson. A re-sentencing hearing has been scheduled for July 15th, 2014.

"I think we're plowing new ground here," Jerry Foxhoven told KARE 11. Foxhoven, a longtime litigator in Iowa, now runs the Drake University Legal Clinic. He says the Supreme Court decision that allows for resentencing is based on the science of brain development.

"And because our mind is growing and changing, the US Supreme Court and the Iowa Courts have said, first of all, kids aren't as culpable as adults because they're still maturing and changing. Secondly, kids are more apt to be able to change," Foxhoven explained.

Foxhoven says the re-sentencing hearing could take a couple of days as lawyers argue as to whether Michael Swanson is changing or if he can be rehabilitated. In the end, a judge will decide when Swanson will be eligible for a parole hearing which only gives him the chance to argue to get out of prison.

"I would be shocked if it's a very short period of time. By short, I mean, it's not going to be two or three years, I wouldn't think. I would be shocked if it's an extremely long period of time, like 40 or 50 years. Where in between there, that it could be, could almost be anyplace," Foxhoven surmised.

"I don't want him to get out, honestly," Mandy Myers said. She says the week-long Michael Swanson trial was one of the most difficult weeks of her life but that she had some form of closure following the verdict and sentencing. While it will be difficult, Myers says she will attend the re-sentencing hearing because she wants to remain that voice for her mother.

"You move forward. You're trying to put everything behind you and it's hard enough putting one day after the next, and then everything gets dragged right back into the light again," she concluded.

Professor Foxhoven says it is quite likely that either defense attorneys or prosecutors will not be satisfied with the judges' re-sentence ruling. That could tie the case up in appeals courts for quite some time.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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