3 suburban killers who could get out of prison
Sentenced to life as juveniles, could they now go free?
For Illinois prisoners, a life sentence means exactly that. There's no time off for good behavior. There's no compassionate release for terminal illness. There's no early release for extreme age. A life sentence means a prisoner exits the penitentiary in a body bag.
Family and friends of Richard and Nancy Langert believed that fate awaited David Biro, who was 16 in April 1990 when he broke into the couple's Winnetka townhouse, forced Richard, 29, and his wife, Nancy, 25, into the basement and killed them in one of the suburbs' most notorious crimes.
Three suburban cases• David Biro was 16 in April 1990 when he broke into Richard and Nancy Langert's Winnetka townhouse, forced them into the basement and killed them.
• Joseph Arrieta of Aurora, who was 17 in March 1995 when he shot to death Anthony Moore, 23, and Edward Riola, 26, in their Glendale Heights home.
• Sean Helgesen, who was 17 when he and his Elgin High School classmate Eric Robles stabbed to death Robles' parents, Peter and Diana, in April 1993 in their Bartlett home. Helgesen's resentencing hearing is set for Jan. 19, 2016, in DuPage County.
Convicted of first-degree murder and the intentional homicide of the Langerts' unborn child, Biro was sentenced to two mandatory life sentences and a discretionary life sentence for the death of the fetus.
But Biro, who has a court hearing Thursday, now could have a chance of someday being freed. Biro, along with 80 others who killed as juveniles, is eligible for a new sentencing hearing as a result of last year's decision by the Illinois Supreme Court making retroactive the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring mandatory life sentences unconstitutional for juveniles.
Among them is Joseph Arrieta of Aurora, who was 17 in March 1995 when he shot to death Anthony Moore, 23, and Edward Riola, 26, in their Glendale Heights home. Arrietta next appears in court on Dec. 13.
Also eligible for a new sentencing hearing is Sean Helgesen, who was 17 when he and his Elgin High School classmate Eric Robles stabbed to death Robles' parents, Peter and Diana, in April 1993 in their Bartlett home. Helgesen's resentencing hearing is set for Jan. 19, 2016, in DuPage County.
The question now before a Cook County judge is whether Biro deserves a new hearing for the life sentence he received for the death of the Langert fetus. That was at the sentencing judge's discretion, compared to the other two life sentences that were mandatory for the crimes. Cook County Judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan is expected to announce her ruling Thursday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago.
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, Nancy Langert's sister and a longtime advocate for victims' rights, hopes the judge denies Biro's motion and allows the discretionary life sentence to stand.
"The killer got due process," said Bishop-Jenkins, who opposes new sentencing hearings for inmates like Biro.
"These people are already convicted. They no longer have the presumption of innocence," she said.
Scott Nelson, who prosecuted Biro, says the trial judge would have imposed a life sentence even if it wasn't mandatory at the time.
"This wasn't a crime of emotional response," said the former Cook County assistant state's attorney. "It was coldblooded murder. He engaged in a significant amount of planning. He gathered the instruments he needed to do it. Presented with a pretty ruthless case, under those circumstances, the judge would have imposed life whether it was mandatory or not."
"The concern I would have in trying to sentence him now for a crime committed long ago is the passage of time would cause people to be less sensitive to what a horrible crime it was," Nelson said.
Biro, then a New Trier High School student, used a glass cutter to break into the victims' empty home and waited for them to return, said prosecutors, who described him as a thrill killer. Biro shot Richard in the head, then, as Nancy begged for the life of her 3-month-old fetus, he shot her in the abdomen, prosecutors said. Before she died, Nancy Langert drew in her own blood a heart and a "U" that family and friends consider a message of love.
The case went cold for six months until a classmate told police Biro described the murders to him.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling left open the possibility that juvenile killers could receive life sentences if -- after a hearing -- a judge determines that is the appropriate sentence.
Bishop-Jenkins is confident that will be the case for Biro, who she says still poses a threat.
"There are some people so dangerous, we can predict they are not going to be safe risks," she said.
Nelson concurs. Before the murders, no one would have predicted Biro would have committed them and no one can guarantee he won't do it again, Nelson said.
Biro's attorney, Thomas Brandstrader, declined to comment on the proceedings. But Biro's father, Nicholas Biro, hopes his son will receive a new sentencing hearing and that the judge will consider his age at the time.
"I'm not denying it was a terrible thing," said Nicholas Biro, "but it was done by a juvenile and juveniles don't have the judgment adults do."
Nicholas Biro says his son has earned his GED, taught himself to play several musical instruments and developed an ambitious reading list as a way of improving his mind.
"He has not been a troublemaker. He has not been a problem," Nicholas Biro said. "He's tried to educate himself and do something productive with his life."
Nicholas Biro isn't suggesting his son be freed immediately.
"I'm suggesting he be given a chance at a life where he can make a contribution to society," he said.