Perry to sign bill to ban probation for murder

May 25, 2011 8:15:05 PM PDT
In Texas, it's possible to be convicted of murder and get only probation as punishment. That's about to change -- thanks in part to the hard work of a grieving family.

For 13 years, there have been a lot of tears in the Hardin family, but on Wednesday, there were tears of joy.

"I felt like a load had lifted off of my shoulders and I said thank you Jesus," Carolyn Hardin said.

Carolyn Hardin was stunned when a jury sentenced her son Steven's killer, Barry Bernard Crawford, to probation for the 1998 murder.

"I personally felt like my brother's life meant nothing to the judicial system and he meant the world to me and still does," Tonya Hardin said.

Carolyn and her daughter Tonya have been fighting to change the law that allows that option in the courtroom ever since then.

"We had made that promise that we would never quit until it got passed," Tonya said.

Testifying at seven Texas legislative sessions in 12 years, Wednesday House Bill 371 passed.

"Every time you tell your story, you relive it," Tonya said.

Killers convicted of first-degree murder will no longer be eligible for probation by a judge or a jury.

"We didn't really have any powerful allies or lobbyists, we just had victims and a state representative who believed in us," Mayor's Crime Victims Office's Andy Kahan said.

Representative Scott Hochberg authored the bill he's been pushing for years, but it met resistance from defense attorneys and at times prosecutors. "Other families in Texas will bear the benefits of the Hardin's crusade," Kahan said.

It was a tough crusade that Carolyn Hardin admits there were days she wanted to give it up.

"But I would get this little voice and it was like my son was talking to me and he would say mama you're not a quitter," Carolyn said.

And while nothing will bring Steven back, the legacy of his death will live on.

"It helps us ease our pain a little bit because that my brother's death accomplished something," Tonya said.

The governor is expected to sign the bill into law and take effect this September. From that point on, sentencing for killers convicted of first degree murder would be five to 99 years in prison.

This was not the Hardin's last trip to Austin. They'll continue to advocate for bills in support of victim's rights.

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