CHICAGO (CBS) — The family of a 16-year-old murder victim says they thought they got justice.
Until they got a notice that their son’s killer was about to be released.
CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey is digging into the legal loophole that’s causing them to re-live their pain all over again.
Jennifer Kover received a letter she has been dreading for years. News that her son’s killer was about to be released from prison. It came in the mail just days before what would have been her son’s 42nd birthday.
“Unfortunately he’s not here to celebrate,” said Kover.
Michael Bruce was stabbed to death at the age of 16 in 1994. He was found in the front yard of his home.
A total of 25 years have passed, but the street in Hoffman Estates is almost untouched by time.
Police said Bruce got in an argument with 17-year-old girl while he was at a barbecue.
The girl’s brother, Hugo Zarco, showed up later that evening with 6-inch kitchen knife, and stabbed Michael in the chest in front of several witnesses:
“He took a knife and he made a cross,” Kover said. “He knew how to kill somebody. Michael didn’t stand a chance, really.”
Bruce died before he ever reached the hospital, and Zarco fled to Mexico, where he lived for 12 years.
Michael’s family had given up hope, until federal agents tracked him down in 2006 and brought him back to the United States.
Zarco pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
But the family wouldn’t find out until well after the sentencing that his actual jail time would be drastically shorter.
Zarco was eligible for good conduct credits–one day of good conduct equaled one less day in jail
So, Zarco’s getting out next month.
“You think you’re going to get justice for something and I don’t think 13 years is long enough,” said Bruce’s sister, Monica.
Illinois has one of the most liberal good conduct policies in the country. States like Connecticut, Arizona and Ohio allow small amounts of time to be forgiven.
In Illinois, it can be as high as 67 percent of the whole sentence.
But the family also ran into a troubling loophole. In 1998, Illinois passed a law that said inmates serving for first degree murder can’t get good conduct credit.
“If this happened today if Hugo had done this today, he’d be serving 100 percent of his sentence,” said Kover.
But Zarco still gets out early. That’s because even though the trial took place in 2006, the murder happened four years before the law went into effect.
And it’s all news to Michael’s family.
“There should be truth in sentencing no matter when you commit a crime,” said Monica Bruce. “So hopefully somehow that can be changed so that another family doesn’t have to feel the way that we’re feeling right now.”
Now Michael’s family is pleading with lawmakers at the state and federal level to amend the truth in sentencing guidelines involving first degree murder.
Zarco did have federal charges at one point but those were dropped once he was brought to the United States.