A dying Iowa inmate, sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole at 15-years of age for murdering a close relative, will be granted parole, authorities said on Tuesday.
The Iowas parole board’s decision makes Kristina Fetters, now 33, the first Iowa inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole to have her sentence changed.
Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole.
Fred Scaletta, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said the parole board’s decision orders the dying inmate to be transferred to hospice and to remain there until her condition changes.
She also is to have “intense supervision, including regular contact from a parole officer,” Scaletta said.
“The parole board always looks at public safety. Considering her medical condition, she is not really a threat to public safety,” he said, according to Reuters.
Scaletta added that the dying inmate, who is suffering from late-stage breast cancer, should be transferred from prison to the hospice facility within two weeks.
Fetters was 15-years-old in 1995, when she was convicted of beating and stabbing her great-aunt, Arlene Klehm.
Some of her supporters have argued that the dying inmate had an unstable childhood, which led to emotional problems later in life.
Fetters became eligible for parole after a Polk County District Judge re-sentenced her to a life sentence with the possibility for parole in November of this year.
Bryan Stevenson, executive director of Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal defense organization that challenged the constitutionality of the dying inmate’s sentence, says he is pleased with the parole board’s decision.
Stevenson says it’s heartening that Fetters case was re-sentenced as his organization pursues re-sentencing for other inmates across the nation who were juveniles when they were sentenced to life without parole.
The dying inmate was diagnosed with inoperable, State Four breast cancer in September.
Making her case was her family, who pleaded with the parole board, which agreed to review her case and determined she would be better served outside of prison.
“This has been a 19 year old tragedy for my family,” Fetters’ aunt, Nancy Olson, said. “This will bring closure for my family. This will help us all cope a little bit better with the situation.”
Doctors say she is responding well to treatment and the board’s decision makes it clear that, if the dying inmate’s health improves in any way, her case will be reviewed and she could return to jail or be released.