Decades after he fatally shot a woman as he robbed an Orting convenience store, Ansel Hofstetter might be able to get out of prison.
The 41-year-old was sentenced for the third time Friday for the crime he committed in 1991 when he was 16.
“Please know I am deeply remorseful for my actions,” Hofstetter said in court Friday. “… The boy who committed a murder is now the man that stands before you.”
He was back in court because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision about juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole and a resulting change in state law.
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Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson gave him 26 years to life, which means that, after he’s served 26 years, the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board will decided whether he’s eligible for release.
The board wasn’t reachable late Friday to answer questions about when Hofstetter would be up for review, but given that he’s served about 25 years behind bars, it might be within a couple years.
Hofstetter originally was sentenced to life without parole after a jury convicted him of aggravated first-degree murder for the death of 25-year-old Linda Miller.
Then the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to give juveniles mandatory sentences of life without parole, citing new research that shows brains don’t fully develop until young adults are in their 20s.
In 2013, Nelson resentenced him to 40 years in light of that ruling, but that was too early, the Washington State Court of Appeals said.
The next year, the Legislature changed state law to require a judge to hold a hearing before giving a 16- or 17-year-old life without parole for aggravated first-degree murder.
The purpose is to consider the juvenile’s background and other potential mitigating factors. A judge who finds a life sentence isn’t warranted must sentence the juvenile to 25 years to life.
The state appellate court said that’s how Hofstetter needed to be resentenced, which is what happened Friday.
Deputy Prosecutor Jim Schacht called the shooting “chillingly efficient,” and said Hofstetter’s group planned for him to be the gunman from the beginning.
But he also noted Hofstetter had by and large shown good behavior in prison, and had worked to become a counselor to other inmates.
At the hearing, Trista Miller, who was 7 months old at the time of her mother’s death, said she now has to explain to her own daughters why they will never get to meet their grandmother.
“His getting out just terrifies me,” she said, “because I feel like he will just do it again to someone else.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Ellis told the court Hofstetter’s new sentence differs from his previous one in a couple ways. He won’t be released automatically when he’s served the 26 years — he first must convince the parole board that he’s safe to be back in the community — and he will be on parole the rest of his life.
“As we grow older, we have the ability to have what are oftentimes called ‘sober second thoughts,’ ” the attorney said.
It’s clear Hofstetter’s brain didn’t work that way at the time of the shooting, Ellis said, partly due to his client’s youth.
He noted Hoftstetter grew up in a physically abusive and dysfunctional family.
His mother, who died from cancer the year before the shooting, suffered from schizophrenia. His father suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in the Korean War.
At times, Hofstetter was abandoned and eventually kicked out of the home, the attorney said.
“The law obviously has changed rapidly in this arena,” Ellis said. “But I think there are now some settled principles that guide this court’s decision.”