The Utah Sentencing Commission, after hearing a plea from the father of Lori Hacking, voted Wednesday to recommend increasing Utah's minimum mandatory sentence for murder from five years to 15.
Eraldo Soares, the father of murder victim Lori Hacking, pleaded with commission members to save future victim families from going through the shock that his did when he heard that his daughter's former husband and killer, Mark Hacking, could possibly be paroled as early as in his sixth year. However ,the parole board made it clear that it would be 30 years before Hacking would even get a parole hearing.
"I thought it was horrible," Soares said. "I felt it was insulting."
The news of the possibility, Soares said, pushed him into action, lobbying members of the Legislature and Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to have the law changed.
With the thousands of people who came to help search for his daughter, Soares said he felt he owed a debt to the people of Utah to give them peace of mind.
Members of the commission said public peace of mind was the major reason for their recommendation to raise the minimum mandatory to 15 years for murder.
Paul Boyden, executive director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, said the Utah Sentencing Commission received e-mails from people from all over the country, outraged at the news of a six-year mandatory sentence for Hacking.
Boyden said there is no real possibility that Hacking would be released by the Board of Pardons. But due to the public's lack of knowledge of how the system works, it appeared that way.
Boyden also explained that going above 15 years would raise other complications and could discourage murder suspects from accepting plea deals, which often spares victim families from going through the pains of a trial.
Soares said he wanted to seek a 30-year mandatory minimum but decided to agree to 15 after hearing Boyden's concerns.
One commission member voted against recommending the 15-year minimum mandatory sentence. John Hill, director for the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association, said outside the meeting that he voted against it because he felt the penalty was too high and took away too much discretion from the Board of Pardons to weigh circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
"My vote had nothing to do with Hacking" Hill said, but added that the worst crimes, such as Hacking, should not define lesser cases. Hill said had the board recommended 10 years instead, he would have voted for it.
It was also disclosed during the meeting that House Speaker Greg Curtis, R- Sandy, plans to carry the "Murder 15" bill during the next session. Before that, there still remains discussion on the request to include an extra enhancement if the murder suspect is a spouse of the victim.
Soares asked the commission to pass a two- or three-year extra enhancement for those who murder their spouses. He said he wanted to prevent another "Mark Hacking" from happening. "Tell them this is not acceptable," he said.
Commission members said there needed to be additional discussion about separating a married spouse from other positions of trust in the law, such as a Scoutmaster, day-care provider or sibling.
Outside the meeting, Soares said he was proud of the commission for taking a stand to possibly prevent his family's tragedy from happening again. "They have the courage. They are the modern pioneers," he said.
The commission also considered adding drive-by shootings to the list of crimes qualified for murder. Boyden said this crime has managed to slip by in the Utah statute, calling the move a "no-brainer" in charging someone who kills anyone in a drive-by with murder, as opposed to manslaughter.
The commission also considered a proposal to make voyeurism a sex offense that can be placed on the state's sex offender registry. Many commission members said they had concerns about such a move could have broader implications than for what it was intended.
The proposal was made due to past reports of individuals hiding at the bottom of portable toilets for voyeuristic purposes, as well as peeking over partitions in tanning salons and using portable cameras to videotape under women's dresses.
Utah Court of Appeals Judge Gregory Orme said given that simple violations of privacy can be considered voyeurism, he was opposed labeling someone charged with the crime a registered sex offender.
Davis County prosecutor Brian Namba said he felt the sex offender registry should concentrate on the most serious sex offenders in society. The commission voted to make no recommendation but could revisit a similar proposal in the future.
Soares said he can go back to his home in L.A. with a better feeling. He indicated he will return during the legislative session to make sure the "murder 15" bill gets passed. "You can bet, I'll be there," he said.