MUNCIE – The parents of a Delaware County woman don’t think it’s fair the man who killed their daughter walked out of prison five years to the day after being sentenced to 20 years.
Don and Sharon Strasser want state lawmakers to put a limit on how much time inmates serving sentences for violent crimes can get taken off their punishments for good time and other credits. Justin Suits was allowed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the killing of their daughter, 26-year-old Marva Diana Rhea.
The Strassers, from Logansport, told the Star Press they cannot believe prosecutors let that happen.
“We couldn’t understand it, quite honestly,” Sharon Strasser said. “They had been going for murder. ... We thought 20 years isn’t that much for murder.”
Mark McKinney, who was Delaware County prosecutor at the time, called the deal fair and said it probably would have been what a jury found because it was not a premeditated murder.
Suits’ defense attorney, Alan Wilson, is now a Delaware County circuit judge and declined through a spokeswoman to comment to The Associated Press about the practice of inmates having their sentences reduced.
But Wilson wrote in a motion last year while he was Suits’ attorney that his client had “greatly matured since his offense and subsequent incarceration, and is now prepared to resume his place in society and to be a productive citizen.”
He also noted that Suits had “engaged in extensive psychological counseling” and married a woman in December 2010 who was “seeking her Ph.D” at Ball State University.”
“If ever a defendant has shown rehabilitation, it is the defendant in this case,” Wilson wrote.
Suits was initially charged with murder in Rhea’s December 2006 strangling. The killing happened during a domestic dispute in the young couple’s home in Selma, six miles east of Muncie.
When pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, Suits was sentenced to the maximum 20 years.
Being a former police officer, Don Strasser knew that in Indiana most felons serve only half of the prison term imposed by a judge because of time off for good behavior. Suits entered prison with credit for 253 days he had spent in jail before his sentencing.
With the anticipation he would receive credit for good behavior, his first projected release date was Dec. 30, 2016.
In October 2009, a year was cut from Suits’ sentence because he earned an associate degree in applied science. And in 2011, prison officials subtracted 180 days from his sentence for taking part in substance abuse counseling.
An additional 183 days came off his sentence in exchange for participation in a program described as a “faith and character-based re-entry initiative.”
Then, nearly two years were subtracted from Suits’ prison term in recognition of his earning a bachelor’s degree in business management.
At the time of his release last week into a transition program, Suits had received two days shy of four years in prison reduced from his sentence because of program-based credit time.
Don Strasser said he thinks it is unfair Suits was able to reduce his sentence by that much.
“How can we overlook the victims as much as we have?” he said.