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September 20, 2012

Taking away time

After their daughter’s killer was released, Don and Sharon Strasser are advocating for a change in violent offender credit.

LOGANSPORT — Each year, the parents of a woman killed by her ex-boyfriend have watched with frustration as the man’s sentence shrunk from 60 years to 20 and then to five.

Don and Sharon Strasser’s 26-year-old daughter Marva Diana Rhea was killed in December 2006 after her boyfriend at the time reportedly strangled her to death. And now that the boyfriend, Justin Suits, was released into a transition program Sept. 10 due to good time credits and other programs, Don and Sharon want to change the amount of credit violent offenders can receive.

The Strassers, longtime Logansport residents, had all of Rhea’s Christmas gifts wrapped when they received a phone call on Dec. 24, 2006, telling them that their daughter had been killed at the home she shared with Suits and her three-month-old son in Selma.

“We were making plans to come over there Christmas Day,” Sharon said. “But that wasn’t going to happen.”

Rather than facing the initial 60-year proposed sentence for murder, Suits pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received a sentence of 20 years.

Up until the sentencing, Don and Sharon believed Suits would receive the full sentence for murder.

“They kept saying it was going to be a murder charge, and they were going for the full 60 years,” Don said.

But the Strassers received a call from the prosecutor one early morning of September 2007, and he told them he was going to accept the plea agreement and that he hoped they would speak in favor of it at the sentencing hearing that afternoon. The Strassers reacted with shock and a resounding answer of “no.”

“I felt like I got slapped in the face,” Don said.

They both spoke against the abbreviated sentence and new charge at the hearing, arguing that they’d lost their only daughter and that her son, who was three months old at the time of her murder, no longer had a mother.

Sharon said they had hoped for the longer sentence, with at least 20 to 30 years of the sentence years spent in jail, so that Jackson, Marve’s son, would not be influenced by his father.

“By that time Jackson would be grown at least, and he wouldn’t have a lot of influence on him,” Sharon said.

Mark McKinney, the Delaware County Prosecutor at the time, could not be reached for comment. He told The Star Press that the agreement was fair and that a jury trial would have turned up the same result.  

The Strassers were disappointed, but still thankful that Suits would spend at least a decade in jail.

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