By PETER HUSSMANN
The Newton man serving a life sentence for his conviction of first degree murder as a teenager won't be eligible for possible release until he has served at least 60 years in prison following action by Gov. Terry Branstad today.
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that barred states from mandating life sentences without the possibility of parole for murderers who committed their crimes before the age of 18, Branstad today commuted the life sentences of 38 teen murderers in Iowa to life sentences with the possibility of parole only after 60 years.
The action means that they will not have the possibility of parole until they have served 60 years in prison.
Tyler Ray Oberhart was 17 when he and two other Newton teens stabbed Jerry Pittman II 29 times in the backyard of his home at 714 W. 3rd St. S. in October 2007. Oberhart was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, a conviction that has been upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court. He is now 21 years old.
"During this process, the victims are all too often forgotten by our justice system and are forced to re-live the pain of the tragedies," Branstad said in commuting the sentences. "These victims have had their loved ones violently taken away from them. I take this action today to protect these victims, their loved ones' memories, and to protect the safety of all Iowans."
The two other teens involved in the incident, Ray Travis and Justin Robuck, were originally charged with first degree murder but plead guilty to lesser offenses.
Travis plead guilty to second degree robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was 19 at the time of the murder and is now 24 and serving his time at the Iowa State Penitentiary. He tentatively scheduled for release on Jan. 6, 2017.
Robuck, also 19 at the time of Pittman's death, received a 50 year prison term on a second degree murder conviction. Now 24, he is serving his time at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. He is tentatively scheduled for release on Sept. 15, 2050.
"Justice is a balance and these commutations ensure that justice is balanced with punishment for those vicious crimes and taking into account public safety," the governor said. "First degree murder is an intentional and premeditated crime and those who are found guilty are dangerous and should be kept off the streets and out of our communities."