Ansel Hofstetter’s life changed Friday, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hofstetter, 38, has been in prison since he was 16, and neither he nor anyone else expected he would ever get out.
He’d been serving a sentence of life without parole for aggravated murder, the cold-blooded killing of a convenience store clerk in Orting in 1991.
But last year the nation’s highest court ruled that, for juveniles, mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional.
At a resentencing hearing Friday, a Pierce County judge reduced Hofstetter’s sentence to 40 years. He’s served more than 22 years, so he’ll most likely be out in 2031, when he’s 56.
“The court is not going to use its discretion to order a sentence of life without parole,” Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson said.
Nelson’s decision angered relatives of Hofstetter’s victim, Linda Miller, who was 25 at the time and the mother of a 7-month-old daughter. Miller’s sister, mother and daughter all urged the judge to keep Hofstetter in prison.
Linda Miller’s daughter, Trista Miller, now a grown woman, was in tears after the ruling.
“I never got to meet my mom,” she said. “He gets to live a normal life. It’s not fair.”
Hofstetter shot Linda Miller during a holdup with another three other teens on March 18, 1991, firing two bullets into her head with a .22-caliber rifle. The robbery netted less than $80 and a few cartons of cigarettes. At Hofstetter’s trial, witnesses testified that he joked and bragged about the killing afterward.
The details of the case were so chilling that then-Prosecutor John Ladenburg not only wanted Hofstetter tried as an adult but also originally considered asking for the death penalty. Had Hofstetter remained in the juvenile court system, his maximum penalty would have been five years in a juvenile rehabilitation facility.
Hofstetter’s attorney and others who testified in his behalf at Friday’ hearing said Hofstetter has been a model prisoner since his incarceration. They recalled details of his nightmarish childhood, with a mentally disturbed mother and a father who beat him with belts and coat hangers. Hofstetter’s mother died of cancer just a few months before the crime, they said, and her death left him devastated.
Testifying in his own behalf, Hofstetter said, “I am ashamed of the utter disregard I had for humanity. I will not stop trying to make amends for taking the life of Linda Miller. I am a much different person now.”
One irony of the legal turnabout is that one of the boys who were with Hofstetter the night of the murder, 19-year-old Dwayne Satterfield, will remain in prison.
Because he was an accessory to the crime, Satterfield also was sentenced to life without parole, even though he was not the one who pulled the trigger. The Supreme Court decision doesn’t apply to him because he was legally an adult at the time of the crime.
The Supreme Court ruling does apply to five other men who killed as children in Pierce County. Their ages ranged from 13 to 17 at the times of their crimes.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693