The House Judiciary Committee hosted a hearing at City Hall yesterday on whether to change state law to abolish life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.
"Just as he took her life, he should pay the price with his own," Romig said.
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, countered: " 'Adult time for adult crime' is particularly unhelpful. It's a slogan, and it fits well on a bumper sticker."
Yesterday's three-hour hearing centered on a bill Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, D-Phila., introduced last year that would give juvenile lifers a chance of parole after their 31st birthday if they've served at least 15 years of their sentence (and then every three years thereafter).
His bill also would require the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency to collect age, gender and race data annually on all juveniles transferred to the adult system, and details about the decision to transfer, criminal record and sentencing.
Pennsylvania tops the nation in juvenile lifers, with about 450, or nearly a quarter, of the country's 2,000 juvenile lifers.
That's partly because state laws require that anyone arrested for homicide be charged as an adult and anyone convicted of first- or second-degree murder, regardless of his age or role in the homicide, be sentenced to life without parole.
A third of Pennsylvania's juvenile lifers had no direct role but were lookouts or accomplices in crimes that led to murder, said Ashley Nellis, a research analyst for the Sentencing Project.
"Juvenile offenders should be given a second chance, a chance to prove that an extremely poor choice made during adolescence does not have to define who they become as an adult within society," said Anita Colon, speaking for her brother, Robert Holbrook, who was convicted of murder when he was 16.
Julia Hall, a Drexel sociology professor who chairs the Pennsylvania Prison Society's juvenile lifers subcommittee, urged lawmakers to support Johnson's bill.
"Put reason ahead of emotion," Hall said. "[The bill] doesn't give a free pass to anyone."
But victims' advocates urged lawmakers to resist the pleas of "anti-incarceration activists."
"Truth in sentencing means that victims can trust what they are told by prosecutors, judges, corrections, probation and parole," said Carol L. Lavery, the state's victim advocate. "Any statutory change is an assault upon that truth."
Charles D. Stimson, author of "Adult Time for Adult Crimes: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Killers and Violent Teens," agreed:
"By allowing justly convicted juvenile killers the privilege of parole, you are sentencing the victims to a lifetime of torture, while providing a pathway to freedom for the murderers to rape and kill again."
At least half of the handful of lawmakers at the hearing expressed support for the bill.
"Law has gotten in the way of justice. We are now applying the law and not justice," said Rep. Ronald G. Waters, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Philadelphia and Delaware counties.