BISMARCK — A convicted murderer's argument that life sentences discriminate against younger offenders didn't hold up with a South Central District Court judge, but the judge did amend the man's sentence so his possible parole date could be calculated.
A jury in late 1999 found Shawn Helmenstein guilty of murdering Robbie Rahrich, 25, during a Bismarck liquor store robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole on the murder charge and given a consecutive 10-year sentence for robbery.
Helmenstein recently argued that a life sentence is not fair because it punishes younger defendants more harshly than it does older defendants.
"The younger you are, the more time you get," he said in a brief he submitted to the court.
The law regarding life sentences "has been around a long time," South Central District Judge James Hill said at an August hearing, adding that it's never been constitutionally challenged.
Hill recently ruled in the case, saying a person making such an argument must present a strong case and support it by fact and law, that Helmenstein did not do that and so “his argument fails.”
Hill also denied a request for a reduction in sentence, saying the time for such a request expired in June 2000, and that the sentence handed down was “fair and just.”
Helmenstein's attorney, Todd Ewell, declined comment Friday, Nov. 8.
Helmenstein, 42, said at the August hearing that his sentence of life with the possibility of parole, handed down in February 2000, should have carried a calculation for 85% of his life expectancy. The calculation is needed as a reference point for determining when 85% of the sentence has been served, making the defendant eligible for parole.
Ewell said at the hearing that Helmenstein for 20 years “had clung to the belief that he would see the parole board in 40 years and potentially have a life beyond prison.”
The state, in a brief submitted by Special Assistant Burleigh County State’s Attorney Wayne Goter, agreed that the life expectancy number should be included.
Hill ordered Helmenstein’s sentence be amended to reflect a 52.9-year life expectancy from the time of sentencing.
Helmenstein is not eligible for release until 85% of the life sentence has been served or commuted and the 10-year consecutive sentence also has been served, the amended judgment says. The Bureau of Prisons will calculate his parole eligibility date.