Teen convicted of murderer in Battle Creek could see life sentence reduced

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John Loepke appeared in a Calhoun County courtroom Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, for what is called a Miller hearing.

A convicted murderer from Battle Creek who's spent most of his life in prison could see his sentence reduced.

John Loepke, Brad Warner and Thomas Krause are serving a life sentences for the murder of 17-year-old Christina Ferree in 1991. All of them were 17 years old at the time of the killing.

Loepke appeared in a Calhoun County courtroom Wednesday for what is called a Miller hearing. During the 2012 court case Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional.

In 2018, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled judges have the power to to decide if people under 18 get life without parole. They can also re-sentence convicts who committed crimes when they were juveniles.

Erin Van Campen and Jessica Newton, Loepke's court-appointed lawyers from the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office, based their defense in the hearing on the idea their client is a changed man.

Loepke's brother testified on Loepke's behalf and said he speaks to his brother often. He said Loepke is remorseful.

“The heart of this Supreme Court decision is that juveniles have a far greater capacity for change. And not all of them do, but Mr. Loepke has. And so that is the message we hope the court takes away from this, recognizing that it has to be absolutely heartbreaking for the Ferree family to listen to the ways that Mr. Loepke has grown. We don’t overlook that, and Mr. Loepke certainly doesn’t either," Van Campen said. “He has done everything in his power to change the person he is, because he recognizes how awful his past failures were.”

The defense team is pushing for a term of year sentence with the opportunity for parole. Van Campen said Judge Sarah Lincoln will need to consider other factors besides Loepke's remorse.

“Juveniles have a lesser capacity as juveniles to engage, you know, rational thinking, to make good decisions, especially when they’re in the company of other teenagers, which is, as the case with this defense, and especially when they’re under, you know, stress," she said. “Juveniles are much more likely to just then make decision after decision based on their emotions and impulses, rather than ever pausing to reflect on what they’re doing, and whether it’s a good thing in the first place.”

In August, a judge re-sentenced Warner to 40 to 60 years in prison with a chance at parole.

Krause's hearing is scheduled in October.

Loepke will be back in court on Sept. 12, 2019 for his hearing.

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