New criminal code means tougher sentences for violent and sex crime offenders

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Prosecutors filed aggravated murder charges against 50-year-old Tony Degrafreed on Tuesday. Degrafreed is accused of beating and stabbing his wife, Rebecca Degrafreed, to death.

In 1995, he was convicted of murder after he killed his then-wife, Stacey. But, law changes that could help prevent something like this from happening again recently went into effect.

Had Degrafreed been sentenced then under the current criminal code that went into effect July 1, 2014, he would still be behind bars and his wife may still be alive.

State Senator Mike Young says this case is a prime example of why the criminal code needed updating.

“Exactly right. When we started looking at the various crimes, we found that some were way out of whack. They were serving a lot more time for crimes that weren’t as serious as other ones. And so that’s what we’re trying to do, is bring it back into alignment,” said Young.

In 1994, the maximum sentence for murder was 30 to 60 years. On good behavior, that sentenced was reduced by half. Other incentives, like obtaining high school degrees, knocked off even more years.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry says it is frustrating working hard to put a violent criminal away only to see them walk free after less than half their time served.

“We’ve had some aberrational results here in the last couple of years,” said Curry.

Curry points to specific recent cases where violent or sex offenders got of jail quick.

Shamus Patton, who was found guilty of gang activity, illegal possession of a firearm and shooting several people outside the 2010 Black Expo event, was sentenced to eight years. He got out of jail in just three years.

Former Lawrence North High school swim coach Chris Wheat was sentenced to eight years behind bars in 2010 for sexual activity with a minor. He served only two years in jail.

“Well, certainly under the law as it went into effect on July 1, that would not be possible,” said Curry.

“Today, we changed that. Because he’s the one that we’re afraid of,” said Young.

Effective July 1, there are 30 offenses that will carry harsher sentences. Those offenses are mainly violent or sex crimes.

For example, murder now has a minimum 45 to 65 year sentence. And, in most cases at least 75 percent of the sentence must be served. That means if a convicted murderer receives a 45-year sentence, he would have to serve at least 33 years of that sentence. The sentence could also be reduced up to two years if the criminal gets a GED. However, that credit will be proportionate to time served or amount of education obtained while incarcerated. Prior to July 1, it was an across-the-board two years off the sentence no matter the circumstances.

Young and Curry both say the new criminal code is a step in the right direction.

“Prison really should be for people that we’re afraid of,” said Young.

Had this been the case in 1994, Degrafreed would be in jail until at least 2025. And the kids of Rebecca Degrafreed may still have their mom.

Curry says if Degrafreed is convicted, not only will his sentence follow the new criminal code, but it’s an aggravated crime due to his previous murder conviction. This means Degrafreed, if convicted, could face life without parole or even the death penalty.

In order to address concerns of overcrowding due to longer sentences, a pilot program has been launched that will send offenders with lesser crimes to rehabilitation centers to receive help with drug addiction and mental illnesses.

Young says this program has been successful in surrounding states, keeps the jail populated with more violent and sex offenders for longer and dramatically improves the number of repeat offenders once they’re released back into society.

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