Juvenile life sentence will be redone

The Daily World (Aberdeen)June 15, 2014 

At age 16, Brian Bassett was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the savage murder of his parents and 5-year-old brother in their home near McCleary. On Monday, he’ll have a hearing to re-evaluate that sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that such mandatory sentences for juveniles constitute cruel and unusual punishment and are therefore unconstitutional.

That means defendants such as Bassett need to have their cases re-evaluated to determine a minimum sentence.

“Back when Mr. Bassett was sentenced, the mandatory sentence — we knew we couldn’t impose the death penalty, but the mandatory sentence was life in prison without parole,” interim Prosecutor Gerald Fuller said.

A first appearance is set for Monday in Grays Harbor County Superior Court. Judge Gordon Godfrey, who originally sentenced Bassett, will preside over the hearings.

Bassett was convicted in 1996 of three counts of aggravated first-degree murder. He shot his parents, Michael and Wendy Bassett, and drowned his brother, Austin, in a bathtub in 1995.

His friend, 17-year-old Nicholas McDonald, was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of Michael and Austin Bassett and sentenced to 65 years in prison in 1996.

After the murders, the pair took valuables from the Bassett home and headed for California in the family van. But McDonald turned himself in when they stopped in Oregon, then led police to Bassett.

The Legislature passed new sentencing guidelines for minors that went into effect June 1. The new rules state an offender convicted of aggravated first-degree murder will have a minimum sentence of 25 years.

Fuller said that because of the nature of Bassett’s crimes, he’ll still have to serve his sentence for each of his victims consecutively. Even if he were to get the new minimum sentence on each count, he would still have about 57 years left on a 75-year sentence.

“Depending on the circumstances, if the court finds justification, it could go all the way up to life without parole,” Fuller said.

The high court’s decision did not ban life without parole as a sentence for minors, but removed it as mandatory.

“Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion. “It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.

“It neglects the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer pressures may have affected him. Indeed, it ignores that he might have been charged and convicted of a lesser offense if not for incompetencies associated with youth — for example, his inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors (including on a plea agreement) or his incapacity to assist his own attorneys.”

Bassett, now in his 30s, is serving his sentence at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton.

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