Local prosecutor uses Jacob LaRosa as example of folly with new Ohio law

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Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins says the law nullifies the hard work and judgment of judges throughout the state

Prosecutor Dennis Watkins gives opening statement in Claudia Hoerig case

WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins is not happy about a new law in Ohio that eliminates a sentence of life without parole for the vast majority of juvenile offenders.

Senate Bill 256 went into effect on April 12. The bill also creates new wide-ranging parole eligibility, Watkins said, that applies regardless of when a juvenile committed their offenses and regardless of when they were sentenced.

Watkins said the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office fought against the changes, citing the life without parole sentence for Jacob LaRosa.

LaRosa was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of 94-year-old Marie Belcastro in Niles.

Watkins said that LaRosa’s sentencing came after hundreds of hours of hard work by the Niles Police Department, the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Judge Sandra Harwood, Judge Wyatt W. McKay and Assistant Prosecutors Gabe Wildman and Chris Becker.

“Additionally, Jacob LaRosa’s sentence was upheld by the Eleventh District Court of Appeals,” Watkins said.

Watkins said that while the life without parole sentence was “perfectly legal” under the Ohio and United States Supreme courts, the Ohio legislature has now eliminated the possibility for many juvenile offenders, “even some of the worst offenders.”

“The impact of this unnecessary change is that juvenile murderers such as Jacob LaRosa will now be eligible for parole and possibly released back into the community in their 30s and 40s,” Watkins said.

Watkins says the law nullifies the hard work and judgment of judges throughout the state who have determined that life without parole sentences were necessary to protect the public from these offenders.

“This office will continue to vigorously oppose Jacob LaRosa’s release and take all necessary steps, including any potential appeals if warranted, to ensure Jacob LaRosa serves the maximum sentence permissible,” Watkins said.

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