Dying inmate, given a life sentence at age 15, paroled to hospice care

Dying inmate: Kristina Fetters is the first Iowa inmate to have her sentence altered following a Supreme Court ruling banning life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

Holly McQueen/The Des Moines Register/AP/File
This 2007 photo shows Kristina Fetters at the Mitchellville Women's Correctional Facility in Mitchellville, Iowa. Fetters, who has late-stage cancer, is the first inmate released after a landmark Supreme Court ruling said life sentences without parole are unconstitutional for juveniles.

A terminally ill Iowa inmate, who was only 15 when she was sentenced to life in prison for murdering an elderly relative, is being paroled, authorities said on Tuesday.

The Iowa Parole Board decision allows the cancer stricken Kristina Fetters, now 33, to become the first Iowa inmate serving a life term without possibility of parole to have her sentence altered following a landmark US Supreme Court ruling last year making life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles.

The parole board decision Tuesday requires Fetters to be transferred to a hospice and to remain there unless and until her medical condition changes, said Fred Scaletta, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections. She also is to have "intense supervision, including regular contact from a parole officer," Scaletta said.

"The parole board always looks at public safety. Considering her medical condition, she is not really a threat to public safety," he said.

Fetters, who is suffering from late-stage breast cancer, should be moved from prison to the hospice within one to two weeks, according to Scaletta.

Fetters was 15 in 1995 when she was convicted of first-degree murder for beating and stabbing to death her 73-year-old great aunt, Arlene Klehm.

Supporters have said that Fetters had an unstable childhood and suffered mental health problems.

Fetters became eligible for parole after a Polk County District resentenced her in November to a life sentence with the possibility for parole.

"We are really delighted that she is being released," said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of Equal Justice Initiative, a U.S. nonprofit legal defense organization that had challenged the constitutionality of Fetters' sentence.

Stevenson said the parole board decision is heartening as the group pursues resentencing for other inmates across the nation who were juveniles when they were sentenced to life without parole.

(Editing by Gunna Dickson and Diane Craft)

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