|Ronald L Sanford
Marion County, Indiana. 1987. The two elderly sisters had made it clear that they did not want their lawn mowed. But the sisters’ refusal didn’t stop Ronald Sanford and his friend entering the house with intent to steal. If the two criminals couldn’t make money honestly, they’d make it anyway they could. During the course of the burglary, the elderly sisters were murdered.
On the 14th April, 1989, in Marion County, Ronald Sanford was convicted and sentenced to 50 years for the murder of one sister, 50 years for the murder of the other sister, 50 years for Robbery involving serious bodily injury and 20 years for Burglary. The judge stated that all sentences would run consecutively, meaning a total jail time of 170 years. To date (2013) Ronald Sanford has served 24 years and is due a parole hearing in the year 2070.
At this point you may think he deserved everything he got. In fact, some may feel that he should have faced the death penalty for murdering two elderly women, and under normal circumstances, not too many people would disagree with that – but these are not normal circumstances.
No. These are a long way from being normal circumstances.
Ronald L. Sanford was born February 12th, 1974, making him 13 years old when he entered the sisters house. Two years later, he stood in front of a judge in an adult courtroom at the age of just 15. Found guilty on all counts, he was sent to Indiana State Prison to spend his formative years in the company of hardened criminals.
The treatment of Ronald Sanford at the hands of Marion County raises several questions.
Firstly, how does the American justice system equate a 170 year jail term to the actions of a 13 year old boy? Yes, at 13 years of age most boys know right from wrong, and they certainly understand murder. But can a boy of that age truly understand consequences and match them to his actions like a responsible adult would? It’s unlikely, because he doesn’t have the experience or knowledge of life to do so. At 13, life is lived in a blur of new experiences and highly charged emotions.
What does responsibility mean to a 13 year old boy? Not much. He’s just discovered girls, emotions are kicking in, testosterone is rising; responsibility and consequences are just words that adults use to dampen any fun he is having.
I think back to when I was in my early teens, 13, 14, 15. I didn’t murder anybody, (luck or judgement, who knows?) but there’s plenty of things I regret doing and would do differently, given the chance. They were mostly stupid things I would never contemplate doing as an adult. And yet we all do stupid things at 13, because we are just children learning the ways of the world.
I suspect Ronald Sanford would certainly do things differently, but he’s never been given the chance of redemption and never will be. Is 24 years locked in a cage enough punishment? 34, 44, 170 years – how long is enough?
The sign outside Indiana State prison says that even in 1897 they didn’t accept anybody under 16 years of age. Nearly one hundred years later in 1989 that seems to have changed when the prison accepted 15 year old Ronald Sanford as an inmate. Enlightened times in Marion County.
Secondly, how is it possible to place a 15 year old minor in an adult jail without hearing a single protest from anywhere? Quite easily, it would seem. Everybody, including the establishment and the justice department, simply looked the other way. A poor black kid. Who cares? In Marion County, nobody cared.
However, after 24 years, the protests are getting louder, not because Ronald Sanford did not deserve to be punished, because he did and he, himself, accepts that. But I say again – he was just 13 when he committed the crime. What is the point of keeping him locked up for so long? Retribution? Rehabilitation? Has the man not been punished enough for what the child did? Apparently not.
Amazingly, after two and a half decades incarcerated Ronald Sanford is an intelligent, articulate, well adjusted man. Despite living a childhood surrounded by murderers, rapists and rabid gang members he bears no grudges.
He accepts what he did, he accepts his punishment. “We pushed into the home of the sisters and it ended in a double homicide,” he says, making no excuses. “It was that simple. And I got 170 years. I’m eligible for parole when I turn 100. My crime is tragic, unspeakable. It will stay with me for the rest of my life and be an albatross around my neck.”
Ronald Sanford has never been to a school prom, never driven a car or travelled abroad. He reads books about eugenics and metaphysics, a way of escape for a man who has none.
That’s the reality of life lived in lockdown 23 hours a day. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way for the child that became the man. Is it unconstitutional in the United States to sentence a minor to life without the possibility of parole? If it isn’t, it should be. Open that blind eye, Marion County, it is never too late to review a case.
Especially one that has stretched to 24 years…
Information and pictures courtesy:
ITV1 ‘Inside Death Row with Trevor McDonald’