A Woodbury killer's hope of someday getting out of prison ended Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court reinstated his original sentence of life without parole.
Tony Roman Nose's quest for freedom had for months riled the family members of his victim, 18-year-old Jolene Stuedemann. They said her rape and stabbing were so horrific that they never would feel safe if Roman Nose were released.
The high court decision also appears to close the door to any possible appeals for retroactive leniency by other Minnesota killers who, like Roman Nose, committed their crimes while teenagers.
"It's like a weight is lifted off my chest. I can sleep better now," said Jim Stuedemann, who had lobbied for a death penalty in Minnesota after Roman Nose killed his daughter in the family's Woodbury home in 2000.
"He could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but I'm not sure if they would listen to him," the father added. "And the Legislature could change [the law]. But this ruling gives us some relief that this particular chapter is over."
The Roman Nose decision struck at the heart of a complicated legal argument over sentences conferred nationwide on teenage killers. In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs. Alabama that sentencing juveniles to spend their entire lives in prison without consideration of age and age-related characteristics violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
However, the Miller vs. Alabama decision didn't categorically restrict life without parole for juveniles, but it said judges must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest penalty possible.
Roman Nose, convicted in 2001 of first-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct, fell into mandatory sentencing guidelines in Minnesota that required life without parole. Three months after Miller vs. Alabama was issued, he filed a petition in Washington County District Court seeking a reduced sentence. Judge William Ekstrum resentenced Roman Nose to life in prison with possibility of release after 30 years — in 2031.
But Wednesday, the Minnesota high court reversed Ekstrum's order, rejecting the defense argument that Miller vs. Alabama applied retroactively to the Roman Nose case.
Roman Nose and Stuedemann were fellow students at an alternative school in Cottage Grove and acquaintances, when he broke into her house and stabbed her 29 times with a screwdriver after raping her.
At the time, he was two months shy of his 18th birthday, which the Minnesota Supreme Court distinguished in maturity from the 14-year-old boy represented in Miller vs. Alabama.
"Thus, any immaturity, impetuosity, or failure to appreciate risks and consequences that was due to Roman Nose's age was not appreciably greater than that of an average 18-year-old," Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote in her denial of his appeal for leniency. "In light of Roman Nose's age, the brutal nature of his crime, and the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, such a windfall would undermine the public confidence in the judicial system."
A reduced sentence for Roman Nose came in "direct conflict" with another Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, Chambers vs. State, issued in May 2013, the high court wrote. In that ruling, involving teenager Timothy Chambers, who was sent to prison without parole for murdering a Rice County deputy, the court ruled that Miller vs. Alabama didn't provide for retroactive sentences.
Prosecutors at the Washington County attorney's office, who had opposed Roman Nose's reduced sentence, applauded Wednesday's decision.
"He's serving life without parole, and at least at this point it's final," said Fred Fink, who heads the criminal division. "It's important that when these new procedural laws come down, that old cases can't be reopened and relitigated. Our criminal justice system is based on the notion of finality, that once a conviction and sentence are issued, they're final."
Wednesday's decision likely will halt further appeals in Minnesota by teenage murderers whose crimes preceded Miller vs. Alabama, Fink said, but he acknowledged it's possible that Roman Nose and his attorneys could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Roman Nose's attorney, Steven Russett, couldn't be reached for comment.
Besides Roman Nose and Chambers, six other teenage murderers in Minnesota went to prison before the Miller ruling. Collectively, they killed 10 people.
Roman Nose, now 31, is being held at Oak Park Heights prison.
"They came to the right decision," Jim Stuedemann said Wednesday of the Minnesota court ruling, "and we're all extremely happy."