Washington state law may mean convicted murderer could get lighter sentence

Sean Stevenson in 1987. (File Photo)

STEVENSON, Wash. — On May 8, 1987, a 12-person Washington jury convicted, then 16-year-old Sean Stevenson, a descendant of a Columbia Gorge pioneer, on multiple murder charges for killing his family.

Stevenson was found guilty of killing and then raping his 18-year-old sister, Amy Stevenson, then killing his mom and stepdad, Margaret and James Butler on Jan. 2, 1987 at their family home in Skamania.

A judge sentenced Stevenson to three counts:

  • Count 1 (first-degree murder): 320 months concurrent with
  • Count 2 (first-degree murder): 320 months consecutive to
  • Count 3 (first-degree aggravated murder): Life in Prison without possibility of parole

At the time of the sentencing, an aggravated murder conviction brought a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but that changed after Washington state lawmakers in the 2013- 2014 legislative session passed House Bill 5064.

The bill was in direct response to a Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, in which the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, even if they are found guilty of aggravated murder.

The Supreme Court said children are not fully developed and may be incapable of weighing consequences and making sound judgments.

By law Stevenson will receive a hearing to set a new minimum term on his aggravated murder count. It is set for Thursday in Skamania County Circuit Court.

Pam Loginsky, staff attorney for Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, says the judge will set a minimum term no shorter than 25 years and set a parole eligibility date.

That infuriates some Stevenson residents.

"I have mixed emotions about that," Rena Engel told KATU. "I feel that everyone should have a second chance; however, it was such a brutal murder, that I have qualms about that."

Engel says she knew the Butlers and knew the case well.

"We were all devastated, just devastated that it happened," Engel said.

Margie Smith says she remembers the story well. She has a background in mental health and child services.

"I'm a very firm believer in mentoring kids, teens, but there are also those who have more severe issues," Smith said. "There were times that I had a kiddo that was too severe for just the regular person to deal with their issues. That could be the case here, I mean, that was really heinous."

Concerned residents had several questions. Can Stevenson be rehabilitated? Can he be trusted? Can he be a productive member of the society?

Stevenson is also serving a term of 140 months for crimes he committed when he escaped from prison in 1988. He was convicted of escape in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, theft in the first degree and theft in the second degree.

Skamania County Prosecutor Adam Kick told KATU that should be served consecutively to the sentence in the triple murder case.

Kick said the judge could set a minimum term of 25 years on the aggravated first-degree murder count.

"If so, we would argue that the 25 years is consecutive to the 320 months," Kick said. "If a later appellate court found, for some reason, that they should run concurrently, then he could be released after about 38 years, which is 320 months plus 140 months (robbery case)."

Kick says that's "a worst-case scenario"

Loginsky says Stevenson would still have to go through the indeterminate sentencing review board hearing before he would be released. She says they could deny his request.

Loginsky says governors could commute Stevenson's sentencing. It's happened twice in the past.

Stevenson is being held at the Skamania County Jail while he awaits his hearing.

KATU requested a jailhouse interview with Stevenson. It was denied.

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