Saturday 20 November 2010

Man convicted in '71 Poconos murder seeks parole

Stroudsburg native Richard Klinger was a long-haired 17-year-old in August 1971 when he fatally shot a 65-year-old woman at her Smithfield Township home while trying to take her new Thunderbird.
On Thursday, Klinger, now 56, short-haired, bespectacled and serving life without parole, humbly took the stand in Monroe County Court, shackled and dressed in a short-sleeved blue jail uniform.
'He's gotten skinnier since the last time I saw him in prison,' a woman sitting with a group of Klinger's supporters whispered.
Klinger, accompanied by defense attorney Jason Leon, presented his petition to Senior Judge Jerome Cheslock, asking for his sentence to be commuted to 'time served' so that he can be paroled. This is Klinger's sixth attempt to have his sentence commuted.
Klinger and Leon believe this latest effort is strengthened by a recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent saying life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed by people under 18 are cruel and unusual, though the ruling doesn't automatically qualify juvenile offenders convicted of murder for resentencing.
The Florida case of a 16-year-old sentenced to life without parole for burglary and attempted robbery led to the Supreme Court ruling in May that juvenile offenders are less culpable than adults for crimes and have a better chance at being rehabilitated. This is because juveniles' brains are less developed than adults' are, according to the ruling.
Klinger's story On Thursday, Leon asked Klinger to give a brief summary of his life before and since the murder.
Born into a blue-collar family, Klinger at one point broke down in tears as he recalled spending more than half of his childhood in foster homes after his mother divorced his father. His mother later moved to New Jersey, remarried and regained custody of all five children, at which point he returned to live with his family when he was 13.
Klinger's mother and stepfather argued often, creating an emotionally stressful environment that caused him to repeatedly run away from home. He made it clear he didn't want to return there and was placed in a new foster home in Glen Gardner, N.J., where his foster parents turned out to be no better than his mother and stepfather.
After a heated argument with his foster mother, he ran away at age 17, taking a shotgun from the house and his foster mother's nephew's car.
Klinger drove to Stroudsburg with plans to steal someone else's car and drive away somewhere. He went to the Smithfield Township home of Regina Prosser, then 65, whom he remembered as being an older woman who lived alone.
Klinger knocked on the door and Prosser answered. He began talking to her while trying to figure out a way to get into the house to get her car keys, but she became suspicious and told him to leave. He then shot her and fled in the car he had driven there.
He drove cross-country to California and then to Florida, where he was arrested. He was brought back to Monroe County, eventually pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced.
In the years since at the state prison in Dallas, Klinger attends church and has earned his general equivalency diploma and an associate's degree, mentored other prisoners and helped organize benefits for various community groups and causes.
Now married to a pediatric nurse working in Germany, Klinger said he would get a job and continue dedicating his life to helping the less fortunate if Cheslock were to commute his sentence.
'I'm not the same person I was at 17,' he said. 'I was a pretty lost kid. I've learned a lot since then. I have a greater sense of the needs of others.'
Cheslock has taken the matter under advisement and will issue a decision at a later date, either granting or denying Klinger's petition request.
Carl Cassel, former pastor of Berean Fellowship Bible Church in Stroudsburg, is one supporter who hopes the sentence will be commuted or at least reconsidered.
'The whole situation is in many senses a tragedy, but I've seen a real change in the life of this young man since first meeting him in 1992,' Cassel said."

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