(MCT) — The Iowa Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments this fall for the case of a woman who was sentenced to life in prison for murder when she was 17, and is now trying to gain her freedom.
The U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court have both ruled in the past two years that it was unconstitutional for juvenile offenders to be automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole — the sentence Yvette Louisell received in 1988 when she was convicted of first-degree murder.
After those rulings, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of 38 Iowa convicts from life without parole to life with no parole until 60 years have been served.
Louisell, now 43, was 17 when she fatally stabbed a paraplegic Ames man in his 40s inside his home. Louisell was a freshman at Iowa State University, and had met Keith Stillwell during an art class on campus where she was a nude model.
Stillwell invited Louisell to his home for a private modeling session, and at some point during a session on Dec. 6, 1988, Louisell stabbed him six times.
During a jury trial the next summer, Louisell argued he had attacked her first, and her actions had been in self-defense, but she was convicted of first-degree murder.
After Branstad commuted the 38 life sentences in one fell swoop, Louisell and her attorney, Gordon Allen, petitioned Story County District Court for a resentencing hearing.
District Court Judge James Ellefson initially denied the request for a new sentence, but after that decision was overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court in October 2013, Ellefson sentenced Louisell to 25 years in prison — a sentence she has already completed.
At the resentencing hearing, Story County Attorney Stephen Holmes argued Louisell’s resentencing should be postponed until after the Iowa Legislature has set new sentencing guidelines for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
Louisell has gained a number of public supporters over the years, including the former county attorney who prosecuted her and the judge who sentenced her.
She was joined by more than 30 of them at the January resentencing, including a Des Moines woman who said she was hoping Louisell would come live with her after she’s free.
Ellefson’s ruling was again appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, this time by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, who is arguing that while the district court is allowed to strike down an unconstitutional sentence, it’s not authorized to create a new sentence.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments for the case Sept. 11 during a session in Iowa City.
MCT Information Services