After reading the recent front-page article on the murder conviction of Willie Louis Turner II, I noted the sentence of "life without the possibility of parole" is not clearly understood even by the family of the victim, Travalas Acres.
The confusion in the family's understanding of the sentence – and undoubtedly in many NTH readers – rests upon the confusion of the legal meaning of the word "life" when used in sentencing in Georgia and the plain language use of the word "life" as understood by normal people who are not lawyers.
Travalas Acres’ sister stated that she will spend the rest of her life knowing that, "Willie Turner will never walk the streets again.” This belief is simply not true. The present legal meaning in Georgia of a "life" sentence is 30 years in prison.
In Turner's case, since he has no possibility of parole, the sentence means he cannot be released before serving his 30-year "life" sentence even if he is a model prisoner and is fully rehabilitated. The judge's additional sentence of "5 years" added to Turner's "life" sentence is the giveaway to Acres family and the general public that “life” does not really mean “life.”
This misunderstanding of the meaning of a “life” sentence in Georgia could be remedied if the legal system would stop using the word "life" when describing a sentence, and just used the number of years – 30 – that is the legal definition of a life sentence in Georgia. Since this is unlikely to happen, NTH reporters do have it in their power when reporting on future cases involving a "life" sentence to explain the actual meaning such a sentence.
In the case of Acres' murder, the article could have explained that the murderer will be out of prison in 35 years – in 2052 when he is 57 years old if he serves his term without incident, or unless he dies or is killed while incarcerated.
And in the same year that the murderer will again walk the streets, U.S. Navy veteran Travalas Acres, if he had not been murdered, would be playing with his great-grandchildren at his 75th birthday party.
Thomas M. Lee