Probation for a murder conviction?

March 2, 2011 8:10:34 PM PST
Right now in Texas, it's possible to get convicted of murder and never spend a single day in prison. But one local lawmaker is working to change the ability of convicts to get just probation for murder.

It's a law that has left many families frustrated and victim's advocates downright surprised to learn someone can be convicted of murder in Texas and never spend a day in prison.

Carolyn Hardin's 26-year-old son Steven was murdered in 1998. Barry Bernard Crawford was convicted of murdering him as Hardin, a tow truck driver at the time, was preparing to tow his vehicle.

"We'll never go back to normal; our life will never be normal again, but we have to keep going on," she said.

Jurors sentenced him to 10 years probation and a $10,000 fine.

It was a sentencing that stunned the victim's family, even more so that it was even an option for jurors.

"Not only as hurt by what Barry Crawford did by killing my brother that day, but hurt by our judicial system," said Tonya Hardin, Steven's sister.

Since 2005 in Harris County alone, more than 100 convicted killers have been sentenced to probation or deferred adjudication.

"It absolutely floored me; it basically just says, you know what, you've got people in prison for drugs and other non-violent offenses and then you got people who intentionally, knowingly take another human being's life that are walking the streets -- something wrong with that picture," Mayor's Crime Victim's Advocate Andy Kahan said.

Last session, lawmakers passed a law that would prevent jurors from granting probation, but right now, judges still have that discretion if the defendant has no prior record.

State Rep. Scott Hochberg is trying to change that, authoring a bill that would make defendants charged with murder ineligible for probation.

The Hardins testified with their story in Austin Wednesday.

"It's not going to bring my brother back, but all we can do is fight to save someone else from going through what my family has been through," Tonya Hardin said.

Crawford's probation came to an end last year, even though the Hardin's never received the restitution they were owed or the justice they believe they deserved.

"I will be there, if it takes that long and there is breath in my body, I will fight," Carolyn Hardin said.

If it passes this session, the bill would take effect September 1 of this year but it would apply only to crimes committed on or after the effective date.