Juvenile offenders, even those convicted of serious crimes, sometimes can be rehabilitated. That may have been what a majority of West Virginia legislators were thinking when they approved a new law on the subject.
They were not thinking of John Moss Jr. and people like him, almost undoubtedly.
Under the new law, juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, no matter how serious their crimes. After 15 years behind bars, they must be granted parole hearings.
Moss is serving a life term for crimes he committed in 1979, when he was 17 years old. Under the new law, he must be granted a parole hearing.
Once members of the parole board hear or read what Moss did, it is highly unlikely they will release him from prison. Let us hope and pray they do not.
Police investigating the crime in Kanawha County, W.Va., found a horrific scene on Dec. 13, 1979. Moss, who confessed to his crimes, had strangled a woman and her two children. According to a published report, one of the children, a 4-year-old girl, was found in a bathtub Moss had filled with water. The other, a 7-year-old boy, was found hanging from a door. Their mother had been beaten, strangled and stabbed with a pair of scissors.
It was the Christmas season. Someone had opened the family's presents.
Crimes of such brutality do not occur often. Even less frequently are juveniles to blame - though we here in the Ohio Valley have witnessed some vicious killings involving people less than 18 years of age.
Can juveniles who commit such evil crimes be rehabilitated? Perhaps.
But should society take the chance of allowing someone capable of a crime such as the 1979 Kanawha County murders to go free?
No. Never. The risk is simply too great that the offenders will revert to form.
Again, parole boards are unlikely to take that chance if, in their judgment, the offenders - of any age - have evil ingrained in them to the point they will be threats to society.
But why take the chance that a vicious murderer, with decades behind bars to polish his act, may convince a parole board to give him a second chance?
Legislators made a mistake with this law. It should be amended with a list of crimes for which juvenile offenders forfeit any chance of parole, ever.