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Conversation about Tennessee's Truth In Sentencing law resurfaces amid string of murders

There's been a lot of finger-pointing in the last few weeks with many advocating for aggressive enforcement of Tennessee's Truth In Sentencing law.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The nephew of one of the victims killed in last week's shooting spree was as shocked as anyone to learn the man accused of the crime only served 11 months of a three-year sentence.  

"It's no way in the world he should've been out; just the people who have suffered behind just this act of releasing this man ... it's overwhelming," Miller said. 

The mayor of Memphis has been a longtime supporter of stricter sentencing laws. 

"These evil actions show why truth in sentencing is a must," Mayor Jim Strickland said the night of Ezekiel Kelly's alleged shooting spree.

Police say Miller's uncle, 62-year-old Richard Clark, was Kelly's second victim that horrifying night.

"I drove through the scene, bypassing around it, not knowing that he was the one that was shot there," Miller said. "Just think if the law was to do their job and just kind of prosecute someone, people would not have been suffering like this."

Miller believes if Truth in Sentencing laws like the one enacted in the state of Tennessee in May of this year had already been on the books his uncle would still be alive.

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"We're suffering because of something that could've been easily prevented," Miller said. "Had they just did their job, due diligence upon giving this man the sentence he deserves."     

"Truth in sentencing" legislation mandates people convicted of a felony serve their full sentence. The law eliminates eligibility for parole for things like good behavior. 

"Truth in sentencing is the law now, it passed in the last legislative session, and we're going to follow the law; that's clear," district attorney Steve Mulroy said.

Critics of the law say it will take more than serving a full sentence to make a difference. 

"I think what's implied is that somehow people spending time in those facilities have the tools, resources, and experiences that correct any criminal behavior," pastor and activist Dr. Earle Fisher said. "I think we have to discuss more about the structural and systemic issues because no matter how long someone is in prison if the purpose of the prison is to correct them and we're not correcting them then it doesn't matter if they do the entire sentence or not." 

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Mulroy agrees that while it is a law that will be enforced, this law, as is, only deals with one aspect of criminal rehabilitation.

"We can work with the county's office of reentry, we can work with Judge Sugarmon in juvenile court," Mulroy said. "We can work with pre-trial services, and you know, agencies of that nature. I think that kind of cooperative effort where it's both, and ... it's tough prison sentences for repeat violent offenders but also the prevention strategies on the early end." 

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