Wyoming man who got life term as minor on track for release

July 31, 2017
FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015 file photo, people line up outside of the Supreme Court in Washington as the justices began to discuss sentences for juvenile prison 'lifers.' In the Monday, Jan. 25, 2016 decision for Montgomery v. Louisiana, the court ruled that people serving mandatory life-without-parole terms for murders they committed as teenagers must have a chance to seek their freedom. The plaintiff, Henry Montgomery, recently learned he will get a chance at parole, 54 years after the killing. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A man who was 15 when he killed an 84-year-old man in a home burglary and who originally got life in prison without parole is on track for release later this summer in a Wyoming case affected by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The Wyoming Board of Parole on July 19 granted Jonathan Roderick’s request for release. Under his parole agreement, Roderick, 41, will be freed if he completes a welding training program and doesn’t break prison rules.

Roderick’s second chance comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile homicide offenders. Last year, the court said the ban applied to those already serving such terms — triggering new sentencing hearings and, in some cases, the release of dozens of former teen offenders across the nation. The justices said the sentence is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual and that all but the rare irredeemable juvenile offender should have a chance at release one day.

In 2013, the Wyoming Legislature changed state law to allow teen offenders sentenced to life parole eligibility after 25 years, provided they haven’t committed serious crimes in prison.

Roderick, imprisoned at the minimum-security Wyoming Honor Camp in Newcastle, passed that mark last year.

“After all the time I’ve done, I’m a little nervous about, you know, what it’s going to be like to get out and all that. But I’m more excited about the idea of it than anything,” Roderick, who plans to get a job as a welder, said in a phone interview.

He shot 84-year-old Calvin Dillon in his kitchen while burglarizing Dillon’s home a few miles north of Glenrock in 1991. Roderick stole Dillon’s pickup truck and dumped his body, which was found by searchers eight days later.

Roderick said he wanted to steal Dillon’s truck so he could hang out with his sister and her friends in Casper.

“Sometimes I sit there and I try to imagine what was going through my head at that time when I did that,” he said. “As an adult now, I couldn’t imagine ever putting myself in a situation like that.”

Roderick made an effort to escape once but the Wyoming Board of Parole determined the attempt wouldn’t jeopardize his chance for parole, parole board Director Dan Fetsco said.

Fetsco said Roderick appears to show genuine remorse.

“I have a strong hunch, if you will, that Mr. Roderick, when gets out, is going to do very well,” he said. “The science shows his brain wasn’t developed yet. Even his crime, if you look at it, wasn’t particularly depraved or even sophisticated.”

Relatives of Dillon did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The Associated Press surveyed all 50 states to see how judges and prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards are responding to the Supreme Court rulings. While some states have resentenced and released dozens of those deemed to have rehabilitated themselves, others have delayed review of cases, skirted the ruling on seeming technicalities or fought to keep the vast majority of their affected inmates locked up for life.

The 2013 state law affected 13 Wyoming inmates, including Robin Sanders, who was 51 when he was freed on parole in 2015. Sanders was sentenced at 17 to life in prison with no chance for parole for being an accessory to a roadside double murder.

Four others sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed as juveniles are unlikely to be released soon because of crimes committed in prison. They include James Harlow, who got another life sentence for stabbing a corrections officer to death in 1997. Harlow originally got three life sentences for raping and murdering a Rock Springs girl in 1985.

“The board can deny them every year for the rest of their lives,” Fetsco said. “Just because they become eligible after 25 years doesn’t mean they’re going to get paroled.”