Change law that could release murderers Gavon Ramsay & Jacob LaRosa

Change law that could release murderers Gavon Ramsay & Jacob LaRosa

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NOVJM LEGISLATION started this petition to Ohio State Senate and

Amend law that requires parole hearings for Gavon Ramsay, a sexual sadist necrophile murderer, Jacob LaRosa, a murderer and attempted rapist, Billy Wayne Smith, a racist murderer, and other dangerous criminals.

Introduction 

This is a petition by: the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers (NOVJM); the Ohio Coalition for Safety and Fairness (OCSF); the family  of Margaret Douglas, who was murdered by Gavon Ramsay; the family of Marie Belcastro, who was murdered by Jacob LaRosa; the family of Kevin Burks, who was murdered by Billy Wayne Smith; the family of Imran Ashgar, who was murdered by Devonere Simmonds, as well as other victims of Simmonds; the family of TJ Maust, who was murdered by Tyler Morris, Michael Watson, and Samuel Castle; the victims of rapists Brandon Moore and Chaz Bunch; and many other Ohio victims. 

We are asking that Ohio lawmakers amend current law to allow for the sentencing of juvenile offenders based on the specific factors involved in their crimes, rather than on age alone. We believe that life without parole (LWOP) is an appropriate sentence for criminals like sadistic killer Gavon Ramsay, who demonstrate exceptional depravity. We oppose recent changes which create a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing and prohibit juvenile offenders, with the exception of triple murderers, from receiving LWOP. Allowing more discretion in sentencing is in the best interests of public safety, victims’ rights, and justice. 


In 2018, 98-year-old Margaret Douglas was murdered by 17-year-old Gavon Ramsay, a sexual sadist who had long been fantasizing about killing people. Not only did Ramsay strangle Margaret to death, he also sexually assaulted her dead body. The judge who heard all the evidence sentenced the killer to life without parole. But now, Ramsay’s carefully chosen sentence has been reduced to 25 years to life by Senate Bill 256.   

Not only did SB 256 reduce Ramsay’s sentence, it also reduced the sentences of other depraved murderers like Jacob LaRosa, who invaded 94-year-old Marie Belcastro’s home, attempted to rape her, and beat her to death with a heavy metal flashlight. SB 256 mandates parole eligibility for all juvenile criminals with the narrow exception of juveniles who kill 3 or more people. Juvenile non-homicide offenders are mandated to be parole eligible after 18 years. Juveniles who murder 1 person are required to be parole eligible after 25 years and juveniles who kill 2 people are required to be eligible for parole after 30 years. 

Other beneficiaries of SB 256 include: Billy Wayne Smith, who kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Kevin Burks, targeting Burks because he was black;  Devonere Simmonds, who murdered two people and attempted to murder two others during a crime spree; Tyler Morris, Michael Watson, and Samuel Castle, who murdered TJ Maust during a home invasion robbery;  Brandon Moore and Chaz Bunch, who kidnapped, raped, and threatened to kill a woman; and many more. 

We oppose this new law for the following reasons. 

  • It creates a blanket one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing and assumes that no juvenile crimes warrant LWOP with the exception of triple murders. The law does not allow judges to choose LWOP for other dangerous murderers like Ramsay upon consideration of the evidence. 
  • It fails to consider the brutal nature of some juvenile crimes. There are juveniles who commit evil crimes, knowingly inflicting significant suffering and/or death upon innocent people for their own benefit. Some of these crimes warrant more prison time than 18, 25, or 30 years. 
  • It takes away justice. Our criminal justice system is based on the idea that sentences should fit the crimes. By mandating sentences that are lenient in some cases, current law denies justice and demeans crimes. 
  • Current law dealing with juveniles sentenced as adults is poorly written. The authors of SB 256 went to great lengths to ensure that they could reduce the sentences of most juvenile felons while at the same time keeping mass shooter T.J. Lane in prison and avoiding the controversy that would come about if he were made eligible for parole. While there is an exception allowing LWOP for triple murderers, this exception only applies when the killer was the principal offender in each killing. This means that accomplices to mass murder are required to be parole eligible. Another problem is that attempted murders do not count towards the triple homicide exception. A 17-year-old could go on a shooting spree and shoot 30 people, but unless 3 victims die, they are required to have parole hearings. 
  • The new law is dangerous and goes against common sense. We know that some criminals, such as psychopaths, cannot be reformed and will always pose a danger. And we know that parole boards do make mistakes and release dangerous violent criminals. We know that recidivism is out of control.  On NOVJM's website, we document numerous examples of criminals being released early and re-offending. Mandating parole eligibility for sadistic murderers like Ramsay and allowing them to manipulate their way into society goes against common sense. 
  • The new law is cruel to victims. Parole hearings are extremely traumatic and force victims to relive the crimes. When victims are forced to relive the crimes, conditions such as PTSD and anxiety flare up and they suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms. By mandating parole hearings every 5 years, the current law traps victims in a cycle of trauma and torment. 

The sadistic murder and sexual assault of Margaret Douglas 

On April 6, 2018, 17-year-old Gavon Ramsay, broke into the home of 98-year-old Margaret Douglas. He found her sleeping on her couch and took video of her. He then manually strangled her to death. He strangled her with so much force that he broke vertebrae in her neck. Ramsay chose this method of murder because he wanted to kill someone with his own hands. 

After murdering Margaret, Ramsay undressed her body. He spent 2 hours sexually abusing her body. The details of Ramsay’s post-mortem sexual assault are disturbing. He used her dead hand to pleasure himself.  He placed her in sexual positions for pictures and videos. When he was done, Ramsay shoved Margaret in a closet and left her there. 

Police later found Ramsay’s notebook, in which he wrote about raping people and kept serial killer biographies. His notebook also contained his fantasies of strangling and killing people. Ramsay, a diagnosed sexual sadist, had been fantasizing about murdering people for months, and wanted to kill someone to see how it would feel. 

Ramsay’s murder and post-mortem sexual assault of Margaret were not “mistakes”  or “errors in judgment” made due to an immature youthful brain. These crimes were not impulsive-they were extensively planned, as shown by his notebook. These crimes were not reckless-- they were carried out with precision. If not for his cell phone being obtained in relation to a separate case, or his accidental dropping of a glove in Margaret’s backyard, he may never have been caught. Ramsay was not pressured or led into his acts that night by a peer or older adult- he planned and committed these crimes alone. Ramsay did not fail to appreciate the consequences of his crimes. A 17-year-old knows that murdering a nearly 100-year-old woman is wrong. Not only did Ramsay understand the consequences of his crimes, he committed them because of those consequences and the thrills they gave him.  Even though Ramsay understood the harm his actions caused, he engaged in those actions anyway for his own thrill and pleasure. And these were not his first crimes. Ramsay had already undergone reformation efforts for previous crimes. Despite these efforts to reform him, Ramsay continued committing crimes. The nature of Ramsay’s crimes only escalated. Ramsay’s rampage of terror was only stopped by his arrest for Margaret’s murder. 

The judge who heard all the evidence made the informed decision to sentence Ramsay to LWOP. She heard from several witnesses and considered arguments from the defense and prosecution. She also considered Ramsay’s age, acknowledging his youth repeatedly and explaining why his crimes demonstrate an inability to reform during her sentencing statement. The judge's consideration of Ramsay’s young age was in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling that a juvenile can only get LWOP after the sentencing authority considers their age and mitigating factors. (Despite claims to the contrary, SCOTUS has never banned juvenile LWOP. The ruling in Miller v. Alabama states that a juvenile offender can be sentenced to LWOP after a sentencing hearing in which their youth and mitigating factors are considered. There is no obligation for state legislatures to ban juvenile LWOP to comply with SCOTUS rulings, as SB 256 advocates have suggested). 

Ramsay was granted his right to appeal, and the appellate court upheld his LWOP sentence. He then took his case to the Ohio Supreme Court, and while they sent the case back to the appellate court, they did not void the sentence. All these parties made knowledgeable judgments after viewing the evidence presented. 

The barbaric murder and attempted rape of Marie Belcastro

On March 31, 2015, 15-year-old Jacob LaRosa invaded the home of Marie Belcastro, 94. LaRosa, who already had a criminal history, attempted to rape Marie, and beat her to death with a MAG flashlight. LaRosa’s beat Marie so severely that he ruptured her eyes, shattered her hearing aid, and crushed bones in her face and in the top of her skull. His beating also left Marie's brain matter and skull fragments embedded in the walls of her home.  Her own blood made its way from the hardwood floors of her bedroom to the basement walls and appliances.    LaRosa, who already had a criminal history, bragged to other inmates about the crimes. 

LaRosa ended up pleading no contest. After considering victim impact statements, LaRosa's youth, his strong likelihood of recidivism, his lack of remorse, and the nature of his crime, the judge sentenced him to LWOP. 

{¶22} The trial court reviewed, among other things, a presentence report from the Department of Adult Probation, the extensive psychological assessments and medical information provided for LaRosa, victim impact statements, LaRosa’s allocution statement, the transcript of the juvenile amenability hearing, and the Miller factors for sentencing juveniles. The presentence report ordered by the court contained an Ohio Risk Assessment System rating of “very high” with regard to LaRosa’s risk of recidivism. The report also stated that LaRosa had not only struggled with expressing true remorse, but had repeatedly bragged about his crimes to other inmates while in JJC, despite having been advised by his counsel to show remorse. 

{¶24} The trial court ordered the sentences to be served consecutively, stating—among other things—LaRosa showed a lack of remorse, the harm was so great and unusual that a single prison term does not adequately reflect the seriousness of the conduct, and consecutive terms are necessary to protect the public and punish him. LaRosa was also classified as a Tier III sex offender with the most stringent, lifetime reporting requirements.

Like Ramsay, LaRosa did not wind up with an LWOP sentence for making a "mistake." He fully understood the wrongfulness of his crimes. He committed those crimes for his own benefit. The LWOP sentence was not disproportionate to LaRosa'a heinous murder. LaRosa is a predator who victimized a 94-year-old woman in her own home. The fact that he was under 18 does not change that fact. 

The hateful murder of Kevin Burks

On November 16, 1987, 24-year-old Kevin Burks fell victim to a particularly sadistic and barbaric murder. One of the four murderers, Billy Wayne Smith, was 17 years, 10 months, and 13 days old. The killers had gone on the hunt for a specific black man. When they couldn't locate him, they chose Kevin, as he was also black. They told Kevin that a friend was in need and lured him to a remote Brush Creek Township location where they tortured, stabbed, and shot him and slit his throat.

Smith, who was less than two months away from turning 18, was sentenced to life with parole eligibility after 59 years. But now, under SB 256, he has a parole hearing in January 2022. 

Had Smith been less than 2 months older, he would have been eligible for the death penalty under Ohio law. But because he was 6 weeks shy of 18, he now must have parole hearings every 5 years. If Smith had been 6 weeks older, nothing about Kevin's horrible experience would have changed--the only thing that would have changed would have been Smith's age. 

More criminals

Other criminals who benefit from SB 256 include:

* Devonere Simmonds. Simmonds, 17, went on a massive violent crime spree involving robbery, carjacking, and murder in the summer of 2013. During the spree, he shot and killed Quinten Prater during a robbery. A couple of days later, he shot and killed store clerk Imran Ashgar during another robbery. In Imran’s case, Simmonds shot the victim in the eye, left, and then returned to shoot the wounded man in the head. He also shot and injured James Norvet and William Rudd. The spree killer was sentenced to LWOP plus 48 years. But because Governor DeWine signed SB 256 into law, his sentence has been reduced to 30 years to life. 

* Michael Watson, Samuel Castle, and Tyler Morris. Watson, 17, and Castle, 17,  invaded Elizabeth Bunnell and T.J. Maust’s home with the intent to rob them. Watson shot both victims, killing T.J. and injuring Elizabeth. Though Morris, 17,  was not present during the murder, he was responsible for planning it.

* Chaz Bunch and Brandon Moore. Moore, 15, and Bunch, 16, kidnapped, robbed, and repeatedly gang raped a 21-year-old woman. Bunch expressed desire to murder the victim. Moore shoved a gun into her mouth and threatened to murder her, should she tell anyone about the crimes. 

Broken promises

Margaret and Marie's families trusted the criminal justice system to ensure that justice would be served and that they and the Ohio community would be protected from the criminals. With the murderers' LWOP sentence, these desires were met. The families were granted significant relief with the promises that the killers would never be allowed to roam the streets again. But those promises have been broken. 

On April 12, SB 256 went into effect. As men who each murdered 1 person, Ramsay and LaRosa will be eligible for parole after 25 years. Parole hearings are mandated for double murderers after 30 years and for non-homicide offenders after 18 years. The non-homicide portion of the law gives no consideration for the number of people harmed--a serial rapist could rape 5, 10, 15, or 20 people, but would be required to have parole hearings after less than 2 decades. Besides the multiple killing exceptions, SB 256 gives no consideration to the brutality of some juvenile murders. So long as a juvenile kills 1 or 2 people, they cannot get LWOP, even if they murder children or elderly people, murder for hire, murder to eliminate witnesses, or commit murders involving rape. 

Multiple homicide gymnastics 

To prevent making Chardon High School mass shooter T.J. Lane eligible for parole, and the backlash that would follow, SB 256 allows juveniles to get LWOP if they kill 3 or more people. This exception only applies to those who actually kill 3 or more people, meaning that if a juvenile were to shoot 30 people, injuring 29 and killing 1, they would be required to have parole hearings. This section also mandates that the killer be the principal offender in each murder. Killers like Jordyn Wade, who actively participate in the murders of 4 people, but who are not the principal offender in any of the killings, are required to be eligible for parole. 

As an organization made up of murder victims’ families, NOVJM feels that the triple homicide exception is demeaning and offensive. Brutally murdering 1 or 2 people isn’t enough? When Devonere Simmonds went on a massive crime spree and committed several robberies and carjackings, 2 attempted murders, and 2 murders, that wasn’t enough?  These contortions are not only demeaning, they are ridiculous. This is an inconsiderate way to write the law. 

The brutal reality

SB 256 is based on the blanket assumption that no juvenile crime, other than a triple murder, can warrant LWOP. This is absurd. And while juvenile offender advocates minimize the crimes committed by those they want to free, the truth is this. Some juveniles commit evil crimes. They inflict significant suffering and/or death upon innocent people. They completely understand how their actions harm people, but they engage in those actions anyway for their own benefit, whether that benefit is money, thrill, or something else. 

T.J. Lane is not special 

T.J. Lane is not the only juvenile killer in Ohio for whom LWOP is appropriate. The only reason the writers of SB 256 included a triple homicide exception is that they wanted to avoid the controversy of making Lane parole eligible. They didn’t care about other juvenile murderers, such as Ramsay and LaRosa, because their crimes are not as notorious and widely publicized. But even though the crimes committed by Ramsay and others are less notorious than Lane’s triple murder, they are no less heinous. Lawmakers have essentially told victims that they will only be considered if their case gets enough media attention. It is inappropriate to base laws off of media attention and to devalue victims whose cases did not garner enough media attention. 

Justice for Margaret

In order for Margaret to get justice, Ramsay must be given a sentence that is proportionate to his crime. 25 years does not meet this standard. Allowing him to be paroled in his early 40s and live an unfettered life from then on, while Margaret is dead and surviving victims live lives of grief, is deeply unjust.  Releasing him while he still has decades to live a free life would also demean his crimes and devalue Margaret and her family. 

The judge who sentenced Ramsay to LWOP considered all the evidence and made a careful decision. This decision has now been overturned by politicians who did not know all the details. While some committee members may have learned some of the basic facts from NOVJM, who provided them with testimony, none of the lawmakers who voted for SB 256 can state all the facts that helped the judge reach her decision. 

The lawmakers who voted to reduce Ramsay's sentence cannot state how long Ramsay filmed Margaret sleeping. They cannot state how long it took for him to strangle her. They cannot state what sexual positions he placed her in for photographs and videos. They cannot state what he used as a lubricant when he sexually assaulted her. They cannot state what charm he took off a bracelet as a trophy of his killing. They are not aware that he still has not verbalized or shown remorse for his acts that night, and that he only refers to Margaret’s murder and post-mortem sexual assault as “it” or “what I did”. They cannot provide the names of other people he plotted to kill in his journal. And yet, without knowledge of any of these facts, they voted for a law that could release him in his early 40s. 

Justice for Marie

Allowing LaRosa to be paroled at age 40 and then live decades of a free life is also unjust. The judge who sentenced LaRosa to LWOP, like the judge who sentenced Ramsay, considered all the evidence. LaRosa's sentence has now been changed by politicians who did not consider all this evidence.  

Danger

We know that recidivism is high, including among juvenile offenders. A Department of Justice report on state prisoner recidivism found that nearly 45% of released offenders were re-arrested within 1 year of release.  About 68% were arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years. In Ohio, the 3-year recidivism rate is 31.45%. 

Our dangerous early release page on our website lists over 90 examples of criminals being paroled or released early in some other way and then re-offending. 

Some criminals, like Ramsay, demonstrate a long-term danger. It takes a stunning amount of evil to do what Ramsay did. And that evil will not go away with time or age.  Many dangerous criminals are psychopaths. Psychopathy is a condition characterized by a variety of personality traits. Psychopaths are unable to feel empathy for anyone, even their own children. They feel no remorse for their actions no matter the impact on others. Psychopaths are especially manipulative and can pretend to be reformed when they are still dangerous. Parole boards and other authorities are easily manipulated by them. In fact, psychopaths are 2.5 times more likely to be granted conditional release than non-psychopaths due to their skills at manipulating. 

It is a scientific fact that psychopaths cannot be reformed, at least right now. In the future, there may be some sort of biological treatment developed but even this is unlikely. It is dangerous and irresponsible to make a psychopath eligible for parole when it is a scientific fact that they will not change. All you are doing is giving a dangerous criminal the opportunity to manipulate their way into society. 

Victims’ rights 

In 2017, 83% of Ohio voters voted for Marsy’s Law, which gives constitutional rights to crime victims. SB 256 completely goes against the rights of crime victims by denying justice and legal finality, and by trapping them in a cycle of traumatizing parole hearings. 

Though Margaret and Marie’s families were promised legal finality, those promises have been callously broken by the lawmakers who were supposed to represent them. They will now have to relive the horrible murders of their family members at parole hearings every 5 years, as will other victims. When victims are forced to relive the crimes, conditions such as PTSD and anxiety flare up and they suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms. Any healing that has happened since the crimes is undone. Even though participating in parole hearings is painful, it is less painful than the killer’s release would be. 

By mandating a maximum continuance of 5 years between parole hearings, SB 256 forces victims to endure a significant amount of trauma. A 17-year-old rapist who doesn’t succeed in killing his victim gets his first hearing at age 35. Then another at age 40. Then more at ages 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, and 70. That’s 8 parole hearings for 1 rapist who lives to be 70 (assuming he isn’t released earlier). If a survivor was victimized by several juvenile rapists she could be going through 16, 24, or 32 parole hearings. A rapist should not be entitled to 8 parole hearings. He and his fellow rapists should not get to revictimize their rape victim that many times. That is unbelievably cruel. 


Conclusion

What we are asking for should not be controversial. We simply want the law to allow for appropriate sentences for murderers like Ramsay, who, despite their young age, commit evil crimes and pose a long-term danger. We want victims like Margaret to be considered. 

Please help Margaret and Marie's families and other Ohio victims by signing our petition.

Learn more

NOVJM Website

https://teenkillers.org/  

Margaret Douglas

https://teenkillers.org/memorials/ohio/margaret-douglas/ 

Statements from Margaret Douglas’s great-niece

https://teenkillers.org/legislation/ohio-senate-bill-256/impact-on-victims/statement-on-sb-256-from-margaret-douglass-niece/

https://ohiocsf.com/?page_id=247 

Gavon Ramsay

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/ohio-offenders/gavon-ramsay/ 

Marie Belcastro

https://teenkillers.org/memorials/ohio/marie-belcastro/ 

Statements from Marie Belcastro's grandson

https://ohiocsf.com/?page_id=239

https://teenkillers.org/legislation/ohio-senate-bill-256/impact-on-victims/statement-on-sb-256-from-marie-belcastros-grandson/

Jacob LaRosa

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/ohio-offenders/jacob-larosa/ 

Billy Wayne Smith

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/ohio-offenders/billy-wayne-smith/ 

T.J. Maust

https://teenkillers.org/memorials/ohio-victims/t-j-maust/

Michael Watson, Samuel Castle, and Tyler Morris

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/ohio-offenders/michael-watson-and-tyler-morris/

Devonere Simmonds

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/ohio-offenders/devonere-simmonds/

Imran Ashgar and Quinten Prater

https://teenkillers.org/memorials/ohio/imran-ashgar-and-quinten-prater/

Senate Bill 256

https://ohiocsf.com/?page_id=129 

https://teenkillers.org/legislation/ohio-senate-bill-256/ 

https://teenkillers.org/legislation/ohio-senate-bill-256/consequences-of-sb-256/ 

Other Ohio murderers

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/ohio-offenders/t-j-lane-chardon-high-school-mass-shooter/

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/offenders-cases-state/ohio-offenders/jordyn-wade/

Recidivism

https://teenkillers.org/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/research-on-juvenile-criminal-recidivism/ 

https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2019/may/3/long-term-recidivism-studies-show-high-arrest-rates/ 

https://www.ojp.gov/library/publications/2018-update-prisoner-recidivism-9-year-follow-period-2005-2014 

https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/recidivism-rates-by-state 

Psychopathy

https://teenkillers.org/juvenile-lifers/psychopathology-teen-killers/ 

https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1348/135532508X284310

Examples of dangerous early release

https://teenkillers.org/myths-about-the-juvenile-life-sentence/dangerous-early-release/ 

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