Fair Sentencing for Youth



Murder Victim Family Members: A Father’s Perspective

Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger

July 1, 2010

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
California State Governor
California State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

RE: Support for SB399

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

I write to you as a victim family member. Four years ago my son, Terrell was murdered by a 17 year-old. I cannot describe the depth of pain I have from losing my son. I think about him every day. I want my son’s killer to be punished. However, I believe it is wrong to sentence people under the age of 18 to life in prison with no possibility of parole. For this reason, I support passage of Senate Bill 399, and I urge you to support it as well.

My son was home from college for winter break. Before heading back to college, he went to a party with his best friend in a safe and affluent neighborhood in West Los Angeles. I learned later that the party was crashed by alleged gang members. Late that night I was startled from my sleep with a frantic call from Terrell’s friend, Eric, saying that Terrell had been shot and it didn’t look good. Terrell died on his way to the hospital. He was 19 years old. I have several children, four of which I raised as a single parent. Terrell is my oldest. My children are the thing that I am most proud of in my life.

I support SB 399 because I believe that the sentence of life without parole for someone who is so young serves no one. Under SB 399, my son’s killer would serve many years in prison. But he would also have the chance to prove that he deserves an opportunity to redeem himself. I want this young man to be punished: no question. But I also want him to have the chance to right the wrong he made. I support this bill because it would give him the chance to do so.

I also write to you as a peace activist, and some who has worked for many years to stop violence in our communities. I am all too familiar with the conditions that create despair in the hearts and imaginations of many of our young people. I am the youngest of 10 children and was raised in the Jordan Housing Projects in Watts. I went to college to escape the war that was raging out of control in my neighborhood and then returned home to do something about it. In 1988, I co-founded The Amer-I-can Program with Hall of Fame great Jim Brown to stop the killing in my community. In 1992, I was instrumental in creating a peace treaty between the Crips and Bloods in Los Angeles, which resulted in a decrease in juvenile violence nationally. For 20 years I have been on the front lines waging peace in my community and I have travelled the world carrying this message of peace.

I know people who have been totally consumed by their anger and pain as a result of losing a loved one. I empathize with them. However in order for me to move on with my life and continue to be there for my children, and an inspiration to the many in my community who have experienced the same fate, I had to reconcile this in my heart. For me, reconciling means accepting that I cannot undo the murder, but I can decide how I want to live afterwards. Passing SB 399 would give these young people something to aspire to. Through my work with youth for nearly 20 years I know that they can make horrible mistakes when they are young, but have tremendous potential to change and chose different paths as adults.

I sincerely believe that a life sentence without the possibility of parole perpetuates the old eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth myth, which has left us all blind and toothless. Giving these youths a second chance to right the wrongs of the past does not condone what they’ve done. However, it affirms our own humanity and frees so many of us who have been victimized by murder. Please vote yes on SB 399. Thank you.


Aqeela Sherrills