A district court judge in north-central Iowa has denied a prison inmate’s motion for a lighter sentence after being found guilty of murder as a teenager. Damion Seats was convicted in the August 2008 shooting death of Isidoro Erreguin in Mason City.
Seats was 17 at the time of the crime, meaning his and about three dozen other Iowa cases are under review after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, and another ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Cerro Gordo County District Court Judge Colleen Weiland said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision stated “only in the unusual case” should a juvenile life sentence without the possibility for parole be imposed. “The state argues this is one of those unusual cases and the court agrees,” Weiland said.
She noted Seats had a history of criminal activity prior to his murder conviction and he’s shown little willingness to improve himself. “Mr. Seats has shown no ability or willingness to maintain employment and he’s shown little ability to abstain from the use of alcohol and controlled substances,” Weiland said. “He has not made significant rehabilitative efforts in prison and has, instead, incurred 10 major disciplinary reports.”
But, Weiland added she won’t get in the way of Governor Branstad’s commutation of Seats’ sentence to life with no possibility of parole for 60 years, setting up the possibility that the Iowa Supreme Court will decide the case. Seats’ attorney, F. David Eastman, plans to appeal Weiland’s ruling, saying the Iowa Supreme Court hasn’t offered any guidance on what an appropriate sentence should be in cases like this one. “I think (Judge Weiland) mentioned it before, ‘we’re treading in uncharted waters here,'” Eastman said. “There’s no way to know for sure what is acceptable and unacceptable under the circumstances.”
Cerro Gordo County Attorney Carlyle Dalen said his biggest concern is for the Erreguin family, who now lack “closure” in the case. “When Damion Seats was originally sentenced…he was given life without parole. The family was told that Damion Seats would die in prison. Things have changed,” Dalen said. The sentencing issue, Dalen said, is one that needs to be settled with numerous cases in Iowa and across the country.
There are 37 other cases in Iowa of juveniles serving life sentences that were cut to life with no possibility of parole for 60 years after the governor commuted their sentences a year ago.
(Reporting by Bob Fisher, KGLO, Mason City)