Grant Rodgers, The Des Moines Register
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Kristina Joy Fetters, once the youngest lifer in Iowa's prison system, is dying and hopes to take her last breaths outside prison walls with her mother caring for her.
A Polk County District Court judge in an expedited hearing this week resentenced Fetters and recommended her for parole. If paroled, Fetters would become the first Iowa juvenile lifer released after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made life sentences without parole unconstitutional for juveniles.
Fetters' attorney and Polk County Attorney John Sarcone supported the resentencing. However, no guarantee exists that Fetters will be freed.
The resentencing "came up fast" and state parole board members need time to gather and review information before making a decision, board Chairman Jason Carlstrom told The Des Moines Register.
A Polk County jury convicted Fetters of first-degree murder in 1995 in the death of her great-aunt. She was 15 when she entered prison.
At 33, Fetters now suffers from Stage 4 breast cancer, said her attorney, Michael Adams, the chief of the state public defender's special defense office. The cancer has spread to Fetters' bones, leaving doctors little treatment choices but to help keep her pain under control in the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women's hospice facility, he said.
At the urging of Adams and the Polk County attorney's office, Judge Douglas Staskal resentenced Fetters, recommending that the Board of Parole release her as soon as possible.
"The Court finds that Kristina Fetters has rehabilitated and redeemed herself and the Court recommends to the Parole Board that the defendant be released immediately from custody because of her poor health condition and prognosis," Staskal's ruling said.
Fetters' disease should make the process more urgent in her case, Adams said.
"She lived her life as a model inmate and a model citizen within the institution prior to believing that there was a chance that she would ever be released," he said.
A jury convicted Fetters in the Oct. 25, 1994, death of her great-aunt, Arlene Klehm, 73. Klehm died when Fetters hit her on the head with an iron skillet and stabbed her at least five times.
Fetters' life was increasingly unstable leading up to the night she killed Klehm. When she was 12, she began spending time with Anthony Leon Hoover, 23, a "wannabe" gang member, court papers said.
Hoover was arrested in 1993 after he allegedly held Fetters at gunpoint and raped her. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.
After her relationship with Hoover ended, Fetters ran away from home several times and skipped classes.
In January 1994, Fetters went to stay at Orchard Place, a Des Moines facility for children with mental health issues and behavioral problems. At the facility, she was put on the antidepressant Prozac, which Fetters and her mother have said played a role in Fetters' homicidal behavior.
On the day Fetters killed Klehm, she and another teenager ran away from Orchard Place. The two walked and hitched rides to Klehm's home in northern Polk County, court papers show.
The jury at Fetters' trial convicted her after a day of deliberations.
When Fetters went to prison, she was the youngest person with a life sentence in Iowa.
In 2010, Edgar Concepcion became the youngest when, at age 15, he was convicted of murder, sexual abuse and child endangerment, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
If released, Fetters would most likely move into a hospice care facility, Adams said. The cancer has left her unable to work at her job in the prison, he said.
During her time in the Mitchellville prison, Fetters has been active in speaking to young offenders to warn them about getting involved in crimes, Adams said. She's no longer able to speak with the juveniles.
"It has incapacitated her," Adams said of the cancer. "The only stated prognosis is that it is poor."
The move for the resentencing began last week when Adams told the county attorney's office that Fetters' condition was worsening, said Steven Foritano, the office's trial bureau chief.
Foritano, who led the prosecution of Fetters, said her work with young offenders had made an impact.
"She's really tried to persuade these kids that going down that path is not a good one," he said. "She's really done a lot of positive steps over the years, even from prison."