CANTON, Ohio — When Cindy Leasure heard the judge sentence her aunt's killer to life in prison without parole, there was a sense of finality. But three years after Margaret Douglas was strangled to death inside her Wadsworth home, a new Ohio law could pave a way out of prison for Douglas's convicted killer.
"When he was sentenced it was like okay, we took a criminal off the road, we took him out of society," said Leasure. "And now you're looking at here we go. Now he may be back in society at some time."
Senate Bill 256 goes into effect Monday. It gets rid of life without parole prison sentences for most criminals who were teens when they committed their crimes in Ohio.
It also makes teen offenders eligible for parole after serving between 18 and 30 years in prison, depending on their crimes.
"While SB 256 abolishes discretionary life without parole for juvenile offenders, those juveniles convicted of homicide must serve 25 years before their first parole hearing," said State Senator Nathan Manning, the primary sponsor of SB 256, in a statement provided to News 5. "In no way does this new law guarantee release for offenders, only an opportunity for parole if they can show that they are truly rehabilitated. The Supreme Court has declared the sentence of juvenile life without parole unconstitutional, thus SB 256 brings Ohio into line with federal law."
Gavon Ramsay was 17 years old when investigators said he walked into Douglas's home, strangled her, and abused her body.
Ramsay pleaded no contest to aggravated murder and other charges, and was sentenced in January 2019.
Leasure and her husband, who found his aunt's body stuffed into a living room closet, were in the courtroom for the sentencing.
"It was just a relief to know that this person could not harm anybody else ever again," said Leasure.
Now she's angry the new law could pave a path for Ramsay to someday walk free.
"This is not some poor little juvenile that did something and got punished for life," said Leasure. "You deserve that. You lost rights when you walked into her house uninvited."
Former State Senator Peggy Lehner, who co-sponsored the bill, said it's about giving hope to young people locked up for life.
"I think it gives a purpose to rehabilitation," said Lehner, a Republican from Montgomery County. "If you're never going to walk out of the door of a prison, if you're never going to have a chance to go back to society, or get a job, raise a family, any of those things, there's not a whole lot of point in doing rehabilitation."
Under the law, Ramsay would be eligible for parole when he's 42 years old.
Leasure and her family said they plan to fight for changes that ensure he never walks free again.
"We owe it to Margaret," said Leasure, "because no one should have to be murdered and go through the horror and torment she went through that night."
Lehner stressed the new law does not guarantee criminals will be released. She said it only provides them with the opportunity to go before the parole board and make their case for release.
"Over the past two General Assemblies serious efforts have been made toward sentencing reform," Manning said. "Although, mainly focused on those suffering from addiction, we have also focused on minors involved in serious felonies and how their chance for rehabilitation is more plausible based on their age. This in no way excuses violent offenses, it simply provides a path toward parole for minor offenders after serving a minimum of 25 years."