Erik Jensen, juvenile lifer, hangs onto hope "now more than ever"

Categories: Crime, News, Prisons

erik jensen.jpg
Erik Jensen.
Erik Jensen was seventeen when he got mixed up in the deadly domestic drama of Nate Ybanez, his best buddy. Ybanez is now serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of his mother, Julie; Jensen is also serving life without parole for helping him -- although whether he was involved in the actual killing or just tried to aid his friend in covering up the crime has long been a matter of debate. Either way, both men are hoping that their chances of ever seeing the world outside prison walls may soon be a little less bleak.

As explained in this week's cover story, "The Old Boys," a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision found that a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. What that means for 51 Colorado inmates serving such sentences in Colorado is still being thrashed out; it isn't clear if all the sentences will simply be commuted to forty-years-to-life (the current maximum for juveniles under state law) or whether each offender must be re-sentenced separately, with the possibility of some receiving drastic reductions in time.

Jensen is hoping for a major modification of his sentence that could make him eligible for parole soon. In a recent Facebook posting to friends and supporters, he announces that his attorneys will be filing a motion next week seeking a re-sentencing hearing. "I'm confident, but I've been that way before," he writes. "The difference this time is judges are actually being forced to do the right thing by the Supreme Court."

Jensen is "approaching my 32nd birthday and inching ever closer to the dreaded date where I'll have spent more of my life inside than out," he notes, and that's made him reflective about how he's spent his life and the suffering others have gone through because of him: "Prison makes you face hard truths about yourself, and I've realized that prison is actually probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I was an angry, arrogant teenage boy who had every opportunity to succeed yet could never be satisfied...I find comfort and solace in the fact that the actions that landed me here always were of pure intentions and that the best friend I literally traded my life for has not wasted the sacrifice."

It's a fascinating document, particularly as Jensen muses whether his journey into the lower depths of the corrections system could have some larger significance. "Maybe I came to prison to be the case that decides the fate of so many other kids who made a bad choice," he writes. "Maybe I came to effect change in individuals I encounter. Or maybe I simply came to prison to become the man the outside could never teach me to be."

Continue to read Erik Jensen's letter.

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The fact that Erik was a juvenile is a critical element here, but even leaving that factor aside, the disparity in his sentence compared to those convicted of similar crimes in Colorado and around the nation is also egregious. I believe extreme disparity in sentencing violates society's "standards of decency" that the Eighth Amendment should be used to uphold. This is true for most of these (former) juveniles in CO and elsewhere sentenced to life without parole.


This case is a monumental tradgety. Nathan exhibited every red flag of abuse and Erik sensed it. They were kids and one of them was being ignored by everyone but the other kid. Erik has a big heart and has grown to become a example of what a good man should be. He's spent 15 years in prison for truley believing he was helping a friend. It's time to send him home !!


Powerful story, powerfully told.  Should be mandatory reading for freshmen in Colorado high schools.  Good material foir coaches to discuss with teams.  Relevant for home room and freshman english conversations.  We need to lower the level of violence in our youth.  This testimony can help

michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@kranburg Thanks for the post, kranburg. We're going to make it an upcoming Comment of the Day. Appreciate you weighing in.

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