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Teen's Sentence for Parent Murder Reviewed Post-Ruling

Posted By CSI Academy of Florida || 2-Mar-2016

In an appalling 2010 case, a teenager in Michigan was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for plotting the murder of her adoptive parents. Now, the case is facing review due to a landmark case that was handed down in the United States Supreme Court in 2012.

Tia Skinner was only 17 years old when she planned the murder of her parents. The men who carried out the plot were 18-year-old James Preston and 18-year-old Jonathan Kurtz. As the details of the terrible case unfolded, it was revealed that Tia was dating Kurtz—a relationship her parents did not approve. According to police officers, Tia orchestrated the plot to kill her adoptive parents, Paul and Mara Skinner in their home in Yale, Michigan, just 60 miles northeast of the city of Detroit.

The night the plan was to take place—November 12, 2010—Preston and Kurtz entered the Skinners’ residence by breaking into a back window sometime after midnight. Both 18-year-old boys were carrying knives. The couple was in bed when they were attacked. Paul Skinner was stabbed 23 times, but he still managed to get out of bed and chase the attackers out, protecting his wife Mara, who was seriously wounded. Paul Skinner collapsed just moments after successfully forcing Preston and Kurtz to leave his home.

Although Paul Skinner died from his fatal knife injuries, Mara Skinner survived. She then had to go through the painful experience of testifying against her own daughter in the ensuing murder trial. All these years later, Mara Skinner continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She volunteers with the St. Clair County’s Victim’s Rights office, finding that helping others has served as a valuable form of therapy.

All three of the individuals charged in the case—Tia Skinner, James Preston, and Jonathan Kurtz—were convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Mara Skinner says she supports the court’s decision, emphasizing that it was not her decision to make. The result of the case belonged in the hands of the justice system. What she believes to be wrong is the possibility of reliving this painful ordeal.

“What’s unfortunate and unfair is that, as the law changes, they bring victims back to places that we shouldn’t have to go,” she told Crime Watch Daily.

After being sentenced, Tia may be going back to court with the possibility of receiving a new sentence with a minimum 25 years. This is due to a new ruling from the United States Supreme Court that was handed down in 2012. The decision for Miller vs. Alabama found that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole is “cruel and unusual punishment.” Because Tia was just 17 years old when the killing occurred, she could return to court for a new and lighter sentence.

The other two convicted in the case—Kurtz and Preston—are not eligible for re-sentencing, since they were both 18 years old when the crime occurred and are therefore considered adults in the legal system.

How Do You Feel About This Case?

Kurtz and Preston were only a year older than Tia when the crime she orchestrated was committed. Was she truly less culpable due to her negligible age difference in a crime that resulted in her adoptive father’s murder?

In addition, is it right that Mara Skinner should be forced to relive the worst day of her life and testify against her adopted daughter all over again?

“It brings us right back to the crux of what happened—right back to the core,” Mara told Crime Watch Daily. “It hurts, every time. And I think victims get forgotten. And that’s what brings me to this point, where I’m able to say it to you: I was a victim. I don’t want to ever be forgotten in terms of being less important than a defendant.”

The Michigan Supreme Court will hand down a decision on whether or not Tia should be re-sentenced—this time by a jury instead of a judge. What do you think should happen? Is the precedent and principle of avoiding egregious penalties for minors more important than the outcome of this individual case? Should Tia Skinner’s barely-minor status at the time of the murder factor in her sentencing? Let us know your thoughts!

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