Utah Board Increasing “Natural Life” Sentences, Removing Parole Possibility


When his death penalty was set aside in 1985, replaced with a new sentence of five years to life, ElRoy Tillman believed he might someday walk out of the Utah State Prison a free man, says the Salt Lake Tribune. He has served 30 years for killing a man in 1983, a crime Tillman denies committing. Three years ago, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole settled on the words “and which may be life” in his sentence, and decided he will never leave prison. There are 108 inmates serving board-issued natural life sentences. Of those inmates, 73 — or 68 percent — received a natural life decision within the past four years. The board has made 22 natural life decisions so far this year, about twice as many as in each of the past four years.

Tillman appealed the decision on constitutional grounds, arguing the board gave him an “illegal natural life prison sentence” and did not have the right to take away his possibility of parole. “I'm just saying that the board is out of control,” said Tillman, now 78. “They're giving people sentences that are not even on the books. Two federal courts have upheld the board's right to issue such decrees. “I would think, having gone through the judiciary process, [defendants] know when they are sentenced that if they have a 'life top' they have the potential to be in prison indefinitely,” said Jim Hatch, board spokesman, adding, “unless the board intervenes, essentially exercising our clemency power, and releases him to parole.”

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