Severcool to be re-sentenced
BY STACI WILSON
A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down Monday, June 25 declared mandatory life in prison without parole sentences imposed on juvenile offenders in homicide cases is unconstitutional.
The high court decision has a direct impact on the 1982 sentence handed down to Roxanne Severcool, now age 49, who was convicted in the first degree murders of her parents and a brother in Springville Twp. over 30 years ago.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision (Miller vs. Alabama) written by Justice Elena Kagan, that it was unconstitutional and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the eighth amendment, to sentence juveniles convicted of homicide to a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the chance for parole.
Following the SCOTUS decision, District Attorney Jason Legg filed a motion in the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas earlier this week to grant Severcool, a new sentencing hearing based upon the ruling.
Severcool was just two months shy of her 18th birthday on Aug. 19-20, 1980, when she, and her then boyfriend, Robert Fadden, killed Lester Severcool, 43; Mary Severcool, 38; and Ted Severcool, 10, by shooting them in their Springville Twp. home with a .22-caliber rifle. Another son, James, was also shot but survived.
After a jury trial in Jan. 1982, Severcool was convicted on three counts of first degree murder and sentenced in February of that year to serve life in prison.
Fadden, who was 24 at the time of crime and the shooter, was sentenced, also in Feb. 1982, to serve three consecutive life terms following a jury conviction.
Legg said he has reached out to a relative of the slain family and is now working on contacting remaining family members about the recent developments in the case.
“It was a very difficult telephone call for me to make,” he said, “but I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for that particular family member. My prayers certainly have been with them in this very difficult time.”
Legg also voiced his concern about the impact of the Supreme Court decision.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is disappointing as the juvenile offenders impacted by this ruling would be those involved in homicide offenses. Prosecutors are always concerned about public safety and this particular ruling does nothing to assure public safety is safeguarded.”
“We need to proceed in a measured way that respect’s the Court’s ruling but also provides some level of assurance that the public is protected,” Legg added.
Since her arrest in September 1980, Severcool has been incarcerated, first in juvenile facilities and then in the adult prison system. According to court documents, she is currently jailed Cambridge Springs inCrawfordCounty.
Severcool first filed a post conviction relief (PCRA) petition in July 2010, as a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Floridav. Graham) which decided it was unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to life in prison without parole for non-homicide offenses, Legg explained.
The district attorney filed a motion to dismiss that petition because Severcool was, in fact, convicted in three homicides.
At that time, Legg noted, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was considering the issue in Commonwealth v. Batts. The Pennsylvania Court stayed any decision on the Batts case – pending the SCOTUS decision in Miller v.Alabama.
At the time of Severcool was convicted on the three counts of first-degree murder, no other sentencing guidelines existed inPennsylvaniaother than life without parole, Legg said.
“The Supreme Court has left prosecutors across the country in a very difficult position with no guidance as to how to proceed,” he said. “InPennsylvaniaalone, there are over 400 offended impacted by this decision. At this point, the Commonwealth is not certain as to how this matter will proceed.”
The district attorney also said he is now in the process of researching the applicable penalties that were in place in 1980 for criminal homicide and how those penalties should be applied to the Severcool case.
Severcool will return to Susquehanna County July 17 for a sentencing hearing.