Supreme Court ruling could affect local murder cases

A dozen murder cases in Southwest Michigan could be re-sentenced after a Supreme Court ruling this week.

In the case of Miller v. Arizona, justices decided mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles are unconstitutional.

In Michigan, teens convicted of first-degree murder in adult court are given that punishment.

Velia Koppenhoefer’s son, Efren Paredes Jr., has been serving his sentence for the past 24 years. He was convicted of murdering Rick Tetzlaff

“It’s something always missing everyday with him being gone,” Koppenhoefer said. “And as a mother, that’s very hurtful. I feel pain everyday. And I just hope that that will go away.”

There’s a chance that pain could go away.

Paredes was sentenced to life without parole in 1989, a punishment the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional because it falls under cruel and unusual punishment.

“Now we have an uphill battle,” Koppenhoefer said. “We know that, we understand that. But we will do whatever it takes to bring him home.”

While the court’s decision is a victory for the families of those convicted, Berrien County Prosecutor Arthur Cotter says it’s a tragedy for many of the victims’ families.

“We told the victims and the victims’ family that the person who did this heinous crime would go to prison the rest of their life,” Cotter said. “And now because of this decision they’re not.”

It’s unclear in the written opinion if the court’s ruling applies retroactively. If it does, it will likely open up old wounds for the family of Tetzlaff.

“Rick Tetzlaff’s family will have to go back for the rest of their lives or the natural lives of the inmates to parole hearings and fight to keep the person who murdered their loved ones in prison,” Cotter said.

Koppenhoefer maintains her son’s innocence and says she’ll fight to have him released from prison.

Until then, she’s just holding on to the hope that she’ll someday be able to welcome her son home.

“It can be a long process, but 24 years has been very long,” she said. “However long this may take, we’re ok. We can handle it.”

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