Supreme Court: No parole for Roman Nose in Woodbury murder case
ST. PAUL -- Tony Allen Roman Nose will die in prison under a Minnesota Supreme Court decision issued Wednesday.
In June 2001, Roman Nose was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the first-degree murder of Jolene Stuedemann, 18, who was raped and stabbed 29 times with a screwdriver in July 2000 in her Woodbury home.
Roman Nose was two months shy of his 18th birthday when he killed Stuedemann. And in June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing laws requiring juveniles to spend the rest of their lives in prison for murder convictions were unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
Now 31, Roman Nose appealed his sentence three months later. A Washington County judge last year applied the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to Roman Nose’s case and resentenced him to life with possible release after 30 years, or about 17 years from now.
But the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reaffirmed an earlier ruling and said the U.S. high court’s decision does not apply retroactively to cases like Roman Nose.
The state Supreme Court reinstated Roman Nose’s original conviction of life without possibility of parole.
“I’m very happy and relieved that the state Supreme Court said he should be in prison forever,” Jim Stuedemann, the father of Jolene Stuedemann, said Wednesday.
After his daughter was killed, Stuedemann became an advocate for return of the death penalty in Minnesota. He said if Roman Nose ever got out of prison, “there’s no doubt in my mind he’d kill again.”
In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court did not prohibit all sentences of life without parole on juveniles. But it said those sentences could not be required without giving a judge or a jury a chance to consider mitigating circumstances, including the age, immaturity and family and home environment of the offender.
Roman Nose argued that his mitigating circumstances included a “pathological background,” including “physical and sexual abuse and evidence of a ‘dysfunctional and violent’ personal history,” according to the state Supreme Court ruling.
But the state high court noted that unlike the case that the U.S. Supreme Court decided involving two 14-year-old killers, Roman Nose was almost a legal adult when he killed Stuedemann.
“Thus any immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks and consequences that was due to Roman Nose’s age was not appreciably greater than that of an average 18-year-old,” Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea wrote for the court.
Gildea noted that it could be difficult now, years after the murder, to evaluate mitigating circumstances of Roman Nose’s age and life history and home environment, and that Roman Nose should not get a lighter sentence because of that.
“In light of Roman Nose’s age, the brutal nature of his crime, and the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, such a windfall would undermine the public confidence in the judicial system,” Gildea wrote.
At least four other state supreme courts have ruled that the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision is retroactive and that sentences of people serving life without parole for crimes committed while they were juveniles need to be reconsidered, according to Perry Moriearty, associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law .
John Stuart, Minnesota’s chief public defender, said seven other people in Minnesota besides Roman Nose have been sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed while juveniles. Stuart said that under the latest Minnesota Supreme Court rulings, they will die in prison unless the U.S. Supreme Court declares that its 2012 ruling should be applied retroactively or the Minnesota Legislature changes the law to abolish life without parole sentences for juveniles and makes that retroactive.
In a concurring opinion, Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote that the disagreement between states on whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling applies retroactively to people serving life sentences for crimes they committed while young is resulting in “a significant disparity in outcome for individuals in a similarly situated class.”
“Put more bluntly, some defendants, after decades of incarceration, will have at least an opportunity for release, and others will certainly die in prison,” Anderson wrote. The difference will depend on when the crime took place and in what state, according to Anderson.
“If Mr. Roman Nose were in Iowa, he would be afforded some sort of resentencing, but not here,” said Moriearty, co-director of the Child Advocacy and Juvenile Justice Clinic, which represents two other people in Minnesota serving life without parole sentences for juvenile-age crimes.
Justice Alan Page dissented, and has said before that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling should be retroactive, according to The Associated Press.
State Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, has authored a bill intended to address the issue. It would allow the possibility of parole for juveniles sentenced to life after they served 20 years.
Latz said the proposed law reflects current thinking in differences in the brains and decision-making abilities of teenagers and adults. He said his bill would apply retroactively to people currently serving life sentences for crimes committed while they were juveniles.
“The theory is, we ought to treat teenagers the same whether they were convicted at a time of relative ignorance in teenage brain science or whether they were convicted today,” Latz said. “None of us is the same person we were 20 years ago. The question is how fundamental is the flaw.”
Moriearty also believes the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually take up the issue of retroactivity of its 2012 ruling.
“I can’t see how they can pass on the question,” she said. “I would say the issue’s not over for Mr. Roman Nose.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.