Crime by ‘juvenile lifers’ after prison ‘very rare,’ state says

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When a shotgun-toting convicted murderer held police at bay for seven hours in Barry County, it prompted Target 8 to check into the records of other “juvenile lifers” released from prison.

Timothy Riddle was 15 years old when he killed an elderly Wayne County woman in 1988 while robbing her home.

Riddle served 28 years in a Michigan prison before he was released in 2017, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.

His parole ended in early November 2019 and records show his run-ins with police began less than two months later.

Since then, he’s been arrested eight times for crimes ranging from shoplifting to larceny and assault.

Riddle was wanted for a series of break-ins Wednesday when Hastings police spotted him and chased him through Barry County. 

The 48-year-old ultimately barricaded himself for seven hours inside a gas station in the small town of Woodland.

He fired a shot inside the store, but police said it appeared he was not trying to hit anyone.

No one was injured and Riddle was arrested.

OF 142 RELEASED FROM PRISON, ONE KNOWN ARREST

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, 142 juvenile lifers have been released from prison following resentencing per the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Riddle is the only known arrest.

An Aug. 5, 2021, booking photo of Timothy Riddle from the Barry County Jail.

“This is a very rare case,” wrote Chris Gautz, an MDOC spokesperson, in an email exchange with Target 8.

JUVENILE LIFERS’ RECIDIVISM ‘EXTRAORDINARILY LOW’

In Michigan, former prisoners are considered recidivists — or repeat offenders — if they end up back in prison within three years of their release.

“Most of the (juvenile lifer) releases are too current to be tracked for ‘recidivism,’ (but) overall, this population appears to do well on supervision before discharging from our jurisdiction,” Gautz said.

While MDOC may deem it too early to assess recidivism rates among former juvenile lifers, attorney Deborah Labelle noted the rate would be less than 1%. 

That’s compared to a 26% recidivism rate among the general prison population.

“Mr. Riddle is the only juvenile lifer that I am aware has even been arrested,” Labelle wrote in an email to Target 8.

“(Juvenile lifers’ recidivism) is extraordinarily low,” Labelle said. “There are many who are having spectacular achievements and many more who have reentered and are working and raising families, helping nieces, nephews and siblings, while they build their lives.”

Labelle is an Ann Arbor attorney who fought the state on behalf of hundreds of juvenile lifers in Michigan prisons.

So far, the state says 258 people have been resentenced, 142 of whom have since been released from prison.

Labelle spoke of one former juvenile lifer who recently completed college in Arizona and works as a counselor.

She said another is working for a prosecutor’s office and applying to law school after getting his master’s in social work.

Among those making great strides is Jose Burgos.

At age 16, Burgos was convicted of first-degree murder after he shot and killed a man and critically injured another in Detroit.

“It was a situation where both parties were going to rob each other and both parties had weapons and unfortunately, one man lost his life and another one was paralyzed from the neck down,” Burgos explained in a Zoom call with Target 8.

Burgos spent 27 years in prison before his resentencing and subsequent release in 2018.

He now works for the State Appellate Defender Office helping juvenile lifers reenter society.

Burgos also works with a national incarcerated children’s advocacy group and was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to a state committee on juvenile justice.

Burgos urges people not to judge former juvenile lifers based on Riddle’s crimes.

“You can’t take just that one case and say, ‘OK, society is in danger.’ There’s just too many good stories out here of juvenile lifers who are doing great,” Burgos said.

MORE RESOURCES NEEDED TO HELP LIFERS REENTER SOCIETY

Even with the many successes, advocates said more resources are needed to help former juvenile lifers make the transition back into society.

“What we see time and time again is that people do need one-on-one support,” said Marilena David-Martin of the State Appellate Defender Office. “It’s not easy to come home from prison after serving 40 years and then figure out how to be.”

According to Labelle, there are 117 juvenile lifers who still await resentencing.

It’s not clear what circumstances may have played a role in Riddle’s post-release crimes.

During his two years on parole, MDOC said Riddle was drug tested roughly 80 times; three came back positive, one for marijuana and two for methamphetamine.  

He’s currently in the Barry County Jail in lieu of a $500,000 cash bond.

If convicted on a felonious assault charge connected to his recent crime spree, he could get up to four years in prison.

Authorities said additional charges will likely be filed against Riddle by prosecutors in other jurisdictions. 

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