In the last three months, police say two separate men convicted of murder and released from prison early have killed again. Now, the families of the victims want to change an Indiana law to make sure what happened to them doesn't happen again.
Last month Tarrance Lee was charged with murdering his wife. According to police, he had friends help him dispose of the body. Police are still trying to find it.
And in June, Steven Clippinger was charged with murdering his brother and sister-in-law while their children were inside their Mishawaka home.
Both of those men are convicted murderers, let out of prison early for good behavior.
In Indiana, offenders can be let out of prison after serving at least 50 percent of their sentence -- if they have good behavior in prison. But victim's families say if the law was different, these tragedies never would have happened.
It was, without a doubt, the worst day of Chris Clippinger's life.
"You know, it just plays over like a movie in my mind," says Chris.
It was the day she got a call from her nephew.
"He told me, Aunt Chris, Uncle Steve just shot mom and dad," says Chris.
Police say on June 2, Steven Clippinger, a convicted felon, took a gun to his brother Matthew's house. According to court documents, Matthew took the gun away, and police say Steven returned to the Mishawaka home later with another firearm and shot Matthew and Matthew's wife Lisa to death. Their two children were inside the home.
"They are not going to see their parents again," says Chris, "For the key moments in their life, wedding, high school graduations, baby, Matt and Lisa aren't going to be there. And that is not fair."
Chris believes the murders never should have happened.
Steven was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the 1989 killing a family friend. But because of state law, and good behavior in prison, he was released in 2010 after serving 21 years.
Chris has started an online petition to stop good time credit for violent offenders like Steven.
"Because as victims we get no reprieve from the life sentence we've been served," says Chris.
Last month, her determination was renewed. She learned of another tragedy similar to hers.
Police arrested Tarrance Lee in August. Lee is a convicted murderer. He was sentenced to 150 years in the 80's for his role in the murder of two people. His sentence was eventually reduced and he got out of prison in 2006 for good behavior after serving about 20 years. Police say in August, Lee killed his wife Trina Winston and disposed of her body.
Her family is still waiting for closure.
"We didn't want to believe it," says Traci Winston, Trina's sister, "we still are looking for Trina. We have no closure. He won't tell us where she is. We haven't heard from Trina."
As they wait, they now have something to work toward. The two families are joining forces. Working together to stop good time credit for violent offenders like Steven and Lee -- and keep them in prison longer.
But Doug Garrison, from the Indiana Department of Corrections says good time credit is state law and DOC policy.
"The only way you could be absolutely sure that an offender didn't re-offend, is to let no one out of prison ever. And that is not what society is willing to do," says Garrison.
In Indiana, prisoners can get out after serving at least 50 percent of their sentence. Garrison says most judges sentence criminals with this in mind.
Garrison says the hope that prisoners will one day get out encourages good behavior while they are in prison. And he argues, letting them out early saves taxpayers money. It costs about $56 a day to keep an offender in prison and there are about 28,000 people locked up in Indiana right now.
"Prison can't always stop a person from being who he is. Whether that be a gang banger a rapist or a robber. Sometimes all prison can do is keep them off the streets for a while," says Garrison.
That isn't good enough for Chris Clippinger and Traci Winston -- And now they are on a mission.
"They were literally had their lives robbed from the family," says Chris.
Both Lee and Clippinger are in the St. Joseph County Jail awaiting their trials.
There will be a vigil for Trina Winston Thursday at 6:00 pm at the St. Joseph County Courthouse.
Thursday is also Trina Winston's birthday. She would have been 46 years old.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Mike Dvorak can't comment on either the Lee or the Clippinger case because they are still pending in the courts. But he did release a statement with his stance on early release and what he has done to try to change the law. Here is what his statement said:
"Mr. Dvorak makes the following statement in response to your questions for your story on good time credit for violent offenders. He is providing you some background Information on the current legislation, however, Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule.3.6 and 3.8, prohibit Mr. Dvorak from commenting on the specific cases in which your story is based as both cases are pending litigation.
The Indiana Legislature rewrote the Criminal Code in 1977, changing from Indeterminate to Determinate sentencing. This was a change from the Parole authority determining a release date to the Court determining the length of a sentence.
With this determinate sentencing scheme however the Dept. of Corrections retained the authority to award credit time to an inmate for "good" behavior. The DOC may award "day for day" credit. The Court and the parties are aware of this at the time of sentencing. The DOC contends they need this feature to maintain control of those incarcerated.
As an example a 10 year sentence, which is the Advisory sentence for residential burglary, a class B felony, actually is five years in custody or "executed". Most States as well as the Feds have a credit time system with different percentages awarded. Few jurisdictions require a Defendant to serve 100 percent.
The Legislature also has prohibited Prisoners from repeatedly requesting the Judge for sentence modification. After one year of incarnation a Defendant needs the permission of the Prosecutor to file a petition with the Court for Modification. Further, the DOC has been statutorily authorized to grant an early release to a prisoner; up to as much as three years off their sentence, where they have completed certain educational programs such as a college degree or drug rehabilitation courses.
Specific programs earn specific credit time. Recently the Legislature created Re-Entry Programs and Re-Entry Courts. These too provide for yet further early release from incarceration, however the offender remains under of the DOC. (The DOC may be able to provide you with greater detail about He-Entry, generally I believe its 90 days before a prisoner would otherwise be released). In 2011, the Administration filed legislation to reduce sentences more specifically aimed at Drug crimes.
The Prosecutor's Association opposed the bill and it was defeated, however, it is expected legislation similar to the bill we caused to be defeated will be introduced in the 2013 Session. At the same time that we challenged the reduction of sentences, we introduced Amendments which would have declared specific offenses as eligible for 85 rather 50 percent of the sentenced time to be executed. These crimes are presently denominated as "Serious Violent Felonies". Many of these are sex offenses. We attempted to add some crimes to this category and to reduce the time for some non-violent offenses, however that Amendment was defeated.
I am serving on the Prosecutor's Legislative Committee and along with other prosecutors around Indiana; we are working on a comprehensive rewrite of our Criminal Code. As l have mentioned, we have concern for the amount of executed time an offender serves, yet recognize that the DOC will necessarily retain some credit time scheme. We have shown the Governor and the Legislature there is no present prison overcrowding as initially reported, and therefore, no emergency or need to dramatically reduce sentences in general. However, these should be proportionality from one specific crime to another that demonstrates fairness."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun