Ruling offers hope for man sentenced to life for killing his family as teen

The court found it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of release, potentially paving the way for freedom for a man who was 16 when he killed his parents and 5-year-old brother in Grays Harbor County.

Brian Bassett was 16 in 1995 when he fatally shot his parents with a stolen rifle and drowned his 5-year-old brother in a bathtub at the family’s home in McCleary, Grays Harbor County.

Sentenced to three life terms, Bassett, now 38, received a dose of hope Tuesday that someday he could walk out of prison a free man. The state Court of Appeals agreed with him that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release for juvenile defendants is unconstitutional because it violates the state’s prohibition against cruel punishment.

“It is a big deal,” Bassett’s attorney, Eric Lindell, said of the ruling. “It says that no kids in Washington, under our constitution, can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

The ruling doesn’t mean those who committed heinous crimes as children will automatically go free. It only means that those previously sentenced to life in prison will get the chance to be resentenced and then go before the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, Lindell said.

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It would be up to the board to grant or deny release.

“The brains of kids are different than the brains of adults, and the legal system has recognized you can’t treat kids as miniature adults,” Lindell said.

The Grays Harbor County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is now “strongly considering” petitioning the state Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling, said Prosecutor Katie Svoboda. Her office has 30 days to file a petition for review.

“I obviously disagree with the ruling,” Svoboda said. “This is a case that merits life without parole.”

The three-judge Court of…

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