The issue: Don Strasser was shocked when his daughter’s killer had his sentence reduced by 75 percent. He’s working to be sure no other parent has the same experience.
Our view: Those who want to help can contact their legislators or sign an online petition.
Don and Sharon Strasser had all of their daughter’s Christmas gifts wrapped when they received a phone call on Dec. 24, 2006, telling them that she had been strangled at the home she shared with her boyfriend and three-month-old son.
The Strassers were shocked again the following September when 26-year-old daughter Marva Diana Rhea’s killer made a deal that would shrink his sentence by two thirds. They spoke against the plea bargain, but they took comfort in the thought that the man would spend at least a decade behind bars.
And then came news that even that sentence would be cut in half.
Justin Suits entered prison with 253 days of credit for time he had already spent behind bars. Then he was granted a year off for earning an associate’s degree in 2010. He shaved another 180 days from the sentence in 2011 for undergoing substance abuse counseling and then 183 days for completing another program. Finally, the Department of Correction cut almost two years from his sentence for the bachelor’s degree he earned in business management.
The Strassers had previous personal experience with shortened sentences. Don’s sister, her husband, child and unborn child were killed by a drunken driver in 1972. Because of a plea agreement, the driver received a fine instead of a jail sentence.
Now, Don is taking action. He’s gathering signatures both online and on paper asking Indiana lawmakers to limit the amount of good time credit violent offenders can receive.
The good news for the Strassers is that a group of prosecutors, public defenders and other attorneys has already spent more than a year looking at this and other issues, and the result is a 375-page report calling for tougher penalties for violent offenders. The report also recommends that the state do away with credit time for offenders earning a bachelor’s degree, and it caps the credit time for offenders earning an associate’s degree.
Those recommendations are under review by the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, which includes Sen. Randy Head of Logansport among its members.
If you support changes in the law, give Head a call. You can also go online to sign the petition.