Crime

Man who was 15 when he killed Steilacoom marina owner now eligible for parole

Like his co-defendant Barry Massey, convicted killer Michael Harris now is eligible for parole.

A Pierce County judge on Friday erased Harris’ original sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering Steilacoom marina owner Paul Wang in 1987 and resentenced him to 25 years to life.

A new state law spawned by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave Superior Court Judge Thomas Larkin no discretion in handing down the new sentence.

That makes Harris, now 43, eligible to petition the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for release. He’s already served more than 25 years. It would be up to the board to determine whether he’s ever ready to be set free.

Wang’s widow, Shirley, wrote a letter to Larkin that deputy prosecutor Jareb Ausserer read aloud in court Friday. Shirley Wang did not attend the hearing.

Shirley Wang said she knew Larkin had no choice but to give Harris the 25-to-life sentence, but she wanted the judge to know how Harris’ and Massey’s actions devastated her family 27 years ago.

“My late husband Paul would have been 69 years old this year, and we would have celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary,” Shirley Wang wrote. “Instead, he’s in the grave, and I’m alone. I have tried to be strong over the years, but, honestly, I am quite miserable.”

Harris told Larkin he regrets what happened in 1987 and hopes one day Wang’s family could forgive him.

“A long time has passed,” he said. “I’m not the same person, not a reckless kid.”

Harris said he plans to be a productive citizen should he be paroled some day.

He was 15 and Massey 13 when they shot, stabbed and robbed Wang at his marina, making off with fishing rods, cash and candy. The crime shocked Pierce County residents, both for its brutality and the ages of its perpetrators.

Both teens were prosecuted as adults and convicted of the state’s highest crime — aggravated first-degree murder — and sentenced to life without parole.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding the case of Miller v. Alabama, ruled it was unconstitutional for juveniles to receive automatic sentences of life without parole.

Such sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment for people whose brains still were developing and who might not have the wisdom or judgment to always know the impact of their actions, the high court ruled.

Based on that ruling, the Legislature last year eliminated mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of aggravated murder. The law now makes people convicted of committing that crime before they turn 16 eligible for parole after 25 years.

The law also was made retroactive.

Massey was resentenced in June.

On Friday, Larkin encouraged Wang’s family to try to move beyond their hard feelings.

“Violence can be a cancer. It’s a terrible thing,” the judge said. “But you can’t live with hatred. It’s a cancer, too.”

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