Clasping his big hands in anger, Jim Stuedemann talked about the rage he felt 13 years ago when he saw his daughter’s killer in the courtroom.
“I stared daggers at him. My one great regret in life is that I didn’t kill him the first time I saw him,” Stuedemann said of Tony Roman Nose, who was 17 when he stabbed and raped 18-year-old Jolene Stuedemann in a vicious attack in her family’s Woodbury home in 2000.
“I thought, ‘I could take care of this now.’ My eyes must have lit up or something because as I watched, the bailiff to my right looked at me and shook his head no.”
Roman Nose, convicted of first-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct, was sentenced to life in prison without hope of parole — or so the Stuedemann family thought.
Now, because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Jim and Jeanne Stuedemann and their surviving daughter, Jessica, find themselves living the nightmare all over again.
In a swift change of legal fate, Roman Nose could leave prison after he serves 30 years, in 2031. The thought terrifies the Stuedemanns, who believe he will kill again and that he will target Jeanne or Jessica.
“We don’t believe that he should ever be let out,” Jim Stuedemann said. “No family should ever have to go through what we went through. As long as there’s a chance that he could reoffend, just having the potential is nerve-wracking.”
A legal quandary
The Roman Nose case re-emerged in 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller vs. Alabama that the Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory sentences for juveniles who commit murder and that judges should decide whether life sentences should include parole.
About 2,500 teenage murderers nationwide are sentenced to prison without parole.
After a Washington County district judge resentenced Roman Nose to prison with the possibility of release after 30 years, the county attorney’s office appealed the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court on grounds that the judge didn’t allow a hearing to determine whether a reduced sentence was justified.
A second legal question, said County Attorney Pete Orput, is why retroactive sentences should be granted even though the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t address that issue. Orput solidly backs the family’s position.
“If I take someone else’s life, do I get the opportunity to enjoy mine?” he said last week. “The victims’ families are relegated to a life of sadness. They’ve been given their own prison sentence. When people say, ‘We shouldn’t put children in prison,’ I say, ‘He didn’t hesitate to put other people in their own psychological prison.’ ”
Roman Nose, now 31, is one of eight teenage murderers in Minnesota who went to prison before the Miller ruling and could be affected by it. Collectively, they killed 10 people.
Timothy Chambers was 17 when he rammed a stolen car into the squad car of a Rice County deputy, killing him. After Miller, he appealed to the state Supreme Court for a reduced sentence but was denied. But the Roman Nose appeal raises questions about whether the Chambers ruling would apply to all types of first-degree murder.
Meanwhile, two bills before the Legislature seek to mitigate state law requiring prison without parole for teenagers who commit first-degree murder. Neither has gained much traction.
“The thinking is that juveniles don’t have a fully developed mind and they’re prone to impulsive and stupid acts and that should be factored in,” Orput said. “But I think the bigger question is, where is that line between immature and mature? What about two months before you’re 18? Two weeks before you’re 18? Is there something magic about the number 18? …
“Can someone, a kid or adult, do something so heinous that they forfeit their right to be a part of society? I think that’s the big question.”
Torture and nightmares
Jim and Jeanne Stuedemann were vacationing in northern Minnesota in July 2000 when Jessica found Jolene’s body. She had been stabbed 29 times with a screwdriver and raped. Roman Nose crammed newspaper into her mouth and throat to stifle her screams.
Jolene and Roman Nose were students at an alternative school in Cottage Grove, but knew each other only as acquaintances. During a recent hearing before the state Supreme Court, public defender Steven Russett said Roman Nose was “immature and suffered from poor judgment” when he committed the crime, and noted a dysfunctional childhood and fetal alcohol struggles. Russett couldn’t be reached for comment.
Minnesota Department of Corrections records show that Roman Nose has committed 15 violations at Oak Park Heights prison, including disorderly conduct, disobeying direct orders and assaulting another inmate. Some violations were serious enough that he served time in segregation.
Jim Stuedemann recalled what the medical examiner told him during the trial.
“He said very rarely does he have autopsies with that amount of injuries that were suffered,” Stuedemann said, his eyes filling with tears. “He said it was borderline torture. I asked him if she died quickly and he said no.”
Liz Hare, president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, said it’s critically important for families to know that killers will remain in custody and never threaten anyone again.
“There’s unnecessary suffering caused by Miller vs. Alabama,” said Hare, who lives in Minnesota. “They have to relive that whole experience all over again. There are hundreds of people who will have to face the offender again.”
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, director of Marsy’s Law for Illinois, a group that advocates for the rights of crime victims, said the law should take care of victims’ families more than teenage murderers.
“All of this focus is on the killer, the poor killer, the young killer,” she said. “There aren’t any words to tell you how bad it is. It’s retraumatizing. It’s torture. It’s a nightmare. There aren’t strong-enough words. To never have any legal finality in the case and have to keep revisiting it is nothing short of a torturous nightmare.”
Jim Stuedemann said he wishes he could post Jolene’s photo in Roman Nose’s cell to remind him of her “bright smile and sparkling eyes every day and know what he took.”
Of Roman Nose, he added: “He should never have hope.”
Staff writer Kevin Giles contributed to this article.
Callie Sacarelos is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.