Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

February 23, 2013

No-parole sentence thrown out in attack on parents

DETROIT (AP) — A young woman convicted in a fatal attack on her father will get a chance at a new sentence, the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that bans automatic no-parole punishments for teenagers in murder cases, the Michigan appeals court said Friday.

The case of Tia Skinner made headlines in 2010 when her father and mother were stabbed in their bedroom in Yale, a small town 70 miles northeast of Detroit. She was 17 at the time, a month before her 18th birthday.

Skinner was convicted of first-degree murder after prosecutors said she planned the attack. She was in the basement when two young men, including her boyfriend, entered the home and stabbed Paul and Mara Skinner, police said.

A first-degree murder conviction in Michigan brings a mandatory life sentence with no chance at parole. But the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down those sentences for people under 18 when the crime occurred.

Skinner, now 20, still could get the same sentence. But the judge will have flexibility and be allowed to consider many factors. She can plead for a punishment that carries the possibility of release from prison.

The judge "must consider the characteristics of youth and the circumstances of the offense," the appeals court said.

St. Clair County Prosecutor Mike Wendling said he will ask a judge again to order the maximum punishment. He noted that Skinner was just weeks away from turning 18.

"The facts are pretty glaring. She had planned a calculated homicide against family members," he said.

The appeals court in November said the Supreme Court decision can't be applied to all Michigan prisoners who are serving no-parole sentences for murder committed as a teen. But Skinner qualifies because this was her first appeal in the case.

Skinner told a judge that she never wanted her parents dead. Police said she was angry at them because they took away her phone and didn't want her to see her boyfriend, Jonathan Kurtz. She was accused of offering $1,000 to Kurtz and James Preston to attack her parents.

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