Convicted murderer re-sentenced because of Supreme Court ruling

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CASTLE ROCK, Colo. -- Erik Jensen was sentenced to life without parole in 1999 for a murder he helped commit as a 17-year-old.  Wednesday morning, he was re-sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 40 years. It's a distinction made possible by a Supreme Court decision that found juveniles convicted as adults must at least be given the opportunity to be parole eligible one day, meaning states can't lock up juvenile offenders and throw away the key forever.

At his hearing before a Douglas County judge, Jensen expressed remorse for the 1998 killing of Julie Ybanez, the mother of Jensen's friend Nathan Ybanez.

"I sat three feet away from somebody who was dying, sat three feet away from her and I didn't save her. I could have," said an emotional Jensen to Judge Theresa Slade.

Jensen has already served more than 20 years in prison and his family says he shouldn't have to serve another 20 years to be eligible for parole.

"It's not fair or justice, it's not the way we ought to be treating juveniles," said Erik's father Curtis Jensen.

Jensen is especially bothered by his son's fate because it's so different from his co-defendant Nathan Ybanez.

Ybanez admitted to strangling his mother to death when he was 16 and acknowledged Jensen only helped dispose of the body.

Both were sentenced to life terms, but last year, former Gov. John Hickenlooper commuted Nathan's sentence, allowing for the principle killer to be released in December 2020.

However, Hickenlooper gave no such break to Erik Jensen.

"When that guy who did the crime is out or getting out and the guy that isn't has just been given 40 to life, I don't even understand justice like that," said Curtis Jensen.

Jensen's case manager at the Limon Correctional Facility, Bryan Milburn, testified that Jensen has been a model prisoner who donates money to a homeless ministry.

But without intervention from the governor, Judge Slade repeatedly said her hands are tied. Under state law, she has no discretion but to sentence Jensen to life with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

Jensen's appeals attorney Lisa Polanski says the situation makes no sense.

"This is one of those cases where you can see the injustice so clearly, so clearly it's glaring," said Polanski.

Polanski admitted that with good time, it's possible Jensen may actually qualify for parole after serving 30 years of his 40-year sentence.

But Polanski is frustrated with the Colorado legislature who she said ignored guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court to give judges discretion when it comes to sentencing juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder. Polanski said Colorado's current law is unconstitutional, "and should be overturned. In fact, why wait? Let’s get on it now. We have a new legislature, we have a new governor."

Peter Sauer, another defense attorney for Erik Jensen, told the judge that Hickenlooper's executive order granting clemency to Nathan Ybanez said Nathan took full responsibility and has been a model prisoner. But Sauer noted the governor has never explained why the same logic doesn't apply to Erik Jensen.

FOX31 emailed the press office for Hickenlooper's presidential campaign to ask why he commuted the sentence of Ybanez but not Jensen. We have not received a reply.

Jensen's father tells FOX31 his family will seek a commutation from current Gov. Jared Polis.

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