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law book and gavel

This past November 12, a judge in West Virginia revised the sentence of a man convicted of shooting a pregnant woman in the stomach in 2009, ruling that he could possibly be eligible for parole in the future thanks to a new law.

When Kelly Chapman was 15, he shot a woman, who then lost her fetus as a result. That year, Circuit Judge Duke Bloom sentence Chapman to life in prison without the possibility of parole, tacking on a three to 15 year sentence for attempted murder.

Earlier this year, state legislators passed a new law prohibiting life sentences without parole for people convicted of crimes before they turn 18 years old. State Assistant Attorney General Stephen Connolly wrote in a memorandum to the state parole board that this law should be applied to “past, present, and future juvenile offenders.”

However, laws are written in legal English, which has several dialectical differences to English in regards to terminology, punctuation, and linguistic structures, so it’s very possible to interpret laws differently. Joe Altizer, a lawyer for the House of Delegates speakers, disputed Connolly’s interpretation of the law.

Though Bloom argued that the law doesn’t apply retroactively, he still reduced the sentence of Chapman, who is now 21-years-old, to life with mercy, meaning he could be eligible for parole after serving 18 years. Bloom said that this ruling would only affect the cases before him. Now, six other inmates apart from Chapman have also been identified as eligible for parole under the law.

“When you have a young man, particularly as young as Mr. Chapman, there has to be hope he can be rehabilitated,” said Bloom.

State Department of Military Affairs spokesman Lawrence Messina said in an emailed statement that, “The Parole Board believes today’s ruling applies only to this particular case. The Parole Board continues to follow the guidance provided by its legal counsel regarding this new law. The board had already set a parole hearing for Mr. Chapman, for Oct. 29, 2023.”

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