A man convicted at age 15 of killing two eighth-graders in a 1995 gang shooting had his life sentence for the double-murder reduced to a 60-year prison term on Tuesday.
The sentence handed down to Eric Anderson by Cook County Judge Arthur Hill was the maximum allowed in the case, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 2012 that banned mandatory life sentences for defendants who committed their crimes before turning 18.
With time off for good behavior, Anderson could be released in fewer than nine years, when he will be 46.
Anderson, the son of a Chicago Police officer, had received a mandatory life sentence for the murders of Carrie Hovel and Helena Martin, 13-year-old friends who were killed in the Clearing neighborhood when Anderson opened fire on a van in which they were parked with two teenage boys who members of a rival gang.
“I guess it’s a blessing, because he’s getting the most time he can get,” Tom Hovel, Carrie’s father, said outside the courtroom. “I still wish he was staying behind bars for the rest of his life.”
Speaking to a courtroom packed with relatives of the victims and Anderson’s supporters, Hill announced his sentence after a 25-minute recounting of the events that led up to the shooting, a summary of more than two decades of changes to the laws since Anderson was sentenced, and testimony from a week-long series of hearings last month.
Hill acknowledged “well-settled science” that teenagers’ brains make it difficult for them to recognize the potential consequences of their actions, and that Anderson had become a model inmate during his more than 20 years behind bars.
But Hill also pointed out that while older members of Anderson’s gang, the Almighty Popes, often put younger members up to committing crimes, Anderson had repeatedly volunteered to be the trigger man in the shooting. The judge said he hoped to send a message to gang members, even as he pointed out Anderson’s apparent eagerness to carry out the shooting.
“It is clear though in his case the Almighty Popes, the older kids said, ‘We’re gonna use the younger kids. Can I get a word to the older kids?'” Hill said. “Anderson volunteered, (a gang leader) said ‘no, no.’ The defendant persisted.”
Slim and wearing a scruffy goatee and tan jail jumpsuit, Anderson sat at the defense table, staring alternately at the table in front of him or the judge. His brow remained furrowed for the duration of the hearing, and his only reaction to the sentence was to glance back at his family seated in the gallery.
Anderson’s mother, Julie, had sobbed softly as Hill recounted the effort the parents had made to quell his rebellious behavior of his early teens: sending him to Catholic school, to counseling, and even to a military academy in Kansas. Across the courtroom, Carrie Hovel’s mother, Donna Hollinger, scowled.
Outside the courtroom, Julie Anderson said the ruling was a disappointment, but did not seem surprised. Julie Anderson and her husband both had taken the witness stand last month, as had their son and daughter, affording them the opportunity to make a public apology to Hovel and Martin’s families.
“We at least got to tell them our story, we got to say we were sorry. Eric got to say he was sorry to them,” she said. “We didn’t get to to do that before, so at least that’s something.”
Anderson’s lawyer, Jerry Santangelo, said he still was considering options to appeal the 60-year sentence, and felt that the still-lengthy prison term still did not consider Anderson’s youth and immaturity.
“Being young is not an excuse, but for purposes of sentencing, it does mean you have to treat them as fundamentally different from an adult,” Santangelo said.
“He was a 15-year-old, 5-foot, 3-inches tall and 110 pounds, and he was looking for the approval of his peers, who were gang members.”
Tom Hovel, who attended Anderson’s trial as well as those of his six co-defendants and hearings in several appeals, said he listened to experts’ testimony about teenage brain development and Anderson’s upbringing. Nothing had convinced him that the original sentences weren’t just, Hovel said.
“(Anderson) was 15. He knew what he was doing. He asked to do it,” he said. “This is the tenth time I’ve had to come to a trial on this. It wears on you. It never ends.”