STANWOOD — A Camano Island man convicted of the 1997 murder and rape of a 12-year-old Stanwood girl will get another early release hearing, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
But a state law passed since his conviction opened the door for his early release. People who received lengthy sentences as juveniles in adult court can petition the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for a hearing after they have served at least 20 years, among other requirements.
The law was part of a larger reform movement to give more leniency in sentencing for young people whose brains are still developing. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.”
In 1997, Dodge was living in a group home in south Snohomish County due to a burglary conviction. He ran away and went to a party in Stanwood. He looked for a house to burglarize.
The 17-year-old found one with an unlocked door. Inside, Ashley Jones, 12, was babysitting. When Dodge realized someone was home, he left and armed himself with a stick.
He went back inside, struck Jones in the head and ran. He also sexually assaulted her. She died the next day.
Dodge pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree rape and three burglary counts.
He petitioned for early release in 2018. The parole board denied his request, arguing he’d more likely than not commit another offense if released. It also claimed Dodge “appears to have minimized his behaviors the night of the offense.”
While in prison, Dodge has reportedly completed programs on relationship skills and sex offender treatment. He has been trained in plumbing, welding and paralegal services. He is also married. The board recommended he participate in further programming, noting he could petition for early release again in September 2023.
Dodge appealed the decision in February 2019. He asserted the board placed too much consideration on public safety and didn’t apply the presumption of release included in the new state law.
The appeals court dismissed his petition.
He then filed a petition for review with the state Supreme Court in January 2020. The court agreed with some of his arguments.
Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud argued in the court’s unanimous opinion Thursday that the statute says the review board should start from the notion that the person should be released. The board is supposed to set up conditions that minimize the chance of committing new offenses before denying an early release from prison.
And public safety consideration shouldn’t override that presumption of release, the court ruled. McCloud writes that the review board “abused its discretion.”
Because of this, Dodge will get another chance at early release before the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board. Department of Corrections spokesperson Jacque Coe said in an email that the board “appreciates the guidance provided by the court.” A new hearing will be scheduled for Dodge “as soon as possible,” she added.
The ruling will have an impact on similar Snohomish County cases, Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell told The Daily Herald.
“It has significant implications for releasing juveniles who have been previously convicted of serious, violent and sexual assault offenses,” he said.
He has an upcoming parole hearing, Cornell said. The prosecutor expects Thursday’s decision will be top of mind for the board as members decide whether to release Grote two decades after the killing.
While not criticizing the Supreme Court’s decision, Cornell noted it can “be very destabilizing for family members of victims who think at the time that a sentence was imposed there was certainty in that sentence.”