Jermaine Hicks and Sherrard Owens Williams
Jermaine Hicks is 38 years old. He has been incarcerated since he was 15. He was charged with capital murder in 1994 under the Law of Parties. He was not the person who committed the act of murder in his case. Jermaine was with a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old and they robbed a convenience store in San Antonio. The 17-year-old shot and killed the store clerk. All 3 juveniles were charged with murder. The 14-year-old was charged as a juvenile, given 40 years and he is out of prison. The 17 was charged as an adult and Jermaine, even though he was only 15, was certified to stand trial as an adult.
The attorney for the 17-year-old defendant found a constitutional violation in his statement, so at trial, the person who committed the act of murder in this case was instead charged with aggravated robbery, given 40 years and he has been out of prison for over 2 years.
When Jermaine was certified as an adult and sent to prison for life, he could not read. He spent 8 years in administrative segregation where he taught himself how to read and write. Jermaine, like many of these young offenders had a difficult childhood and was in and out of foster care for much of his young life. But, also like many of these young offenders, he had a vast capacity for change and rehabilitation and growth and he has matured in prison, into a compassionate, remorseful, caring adult who takes full responsibility for his past mistakes and has worked tirelessly on his rehabilitation. He has worked with organizations who advocate for at-risk youth and he has written extensively about the dangers of youth gang affiliation.
Sherrard Owens Williams was also convicted under The Law of Parties along with 4 other co-conspirators even though only one individual, an older gang member was responsible for the actual crime of murder committed during the course of a robbery. The burden of the Law of Parties law states that Sherrard at the early age of 15 should have anticipated that a murder would take place even though he did not even know that the defendant had a gun.
Sherrard realizes that he should never have participated in this crime but he, in no way, knew that a murder would take place and he will serve the same sentence as the older adult in this case who committed the actual crime.
Sherrard also has taken full responsibility for his part in this crime and the bad judgement on his part that led to his participation in this, but at the age of 15 could he really have anticipated the outcome or the actions of a much older savvier gang member? A juvenile should not be held to this standard of prediction and knowledge that such a crime would occur.
Sherrard has used his time in prison to educate himself and to seek constant mental and spiritual growth. He is forever changed and is not the 15-year-old child who entered prison in 1994. He counsels other young inmates and holds workshops in the prison that encourage spiritual growth and self-improvement.
The Supreme Court has emphasized that adult sentences are not appropriate for children because youth are less culpable for their crimes and more capable of change and rehabilitation.
Even though The Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs. Alabama that Mandatory Life Without Parole Sentences for children are unconstitutional, since 1962, in Texas less than 30 juveniles serving life in prison have been granted parole, so without the passing of Second Look legislation, inmates like Jermaine and Sherrard and hundreds of others may die in prison, for a crime that they admittedly participated in when they were children but did not factually commit and the taxpayers of Texas will have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep them there until their death. If the legislation passes, they will have a reasonable chance at parole. They have a supportive system in place waiting for them. They will be reintegrated back into the community and will begin contributing back to the economy of Texas and helping other at-risk youth.
In Jermaine’s own words, “Daily, I feel that it is my duty to create a way to reach at risk youth, to teach them that life offers more to them, than a cold prison cell. Freedom to me is physical, but it is also knowing that through my struggle, I can, with God’s help, free those at-risk youths who await this captivity if they don’t change the way they think. So, like Paul said in Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”