A convicted murderer from Iowa, sentenced to life as a juvenile, has been granted unprecedented parole after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The decision marks the first time that a juvenile sentenced to life without the option of parole has been released in the state.
Kristina Joy Fetters, now 33, has left the confines of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville for the first time since her imprisonment at age 15. She will now be transferred to hospice care for breast cancer treatment. Fetters spent Monday in an area hospital after she reportedly experienced pains all throughout last weekend, the Des Moines Register reports.
The dying inmate was just 14 at the time she brutally stabbed and killer her elderly aunt, Arlene Louise Klehm, 73, who was like a mother to her. Detective Neil Shultz from Polk County told the Register in October 1994, "It was a grisly scene. Very brutal. Bloody." An autopsy showed that Klehm died of a combination of forceful blows and stab wounds.
Klehm’s brother, Winston Crandell, believed Fetters was a “good, kind of a typical kid in a lot of ways.”
Her family continues to support her now that she has been left paralyzed, unable to walk by breast cancer. “It’s now time for my family to have closure,” said Fetters’ aunt, Darcy Olson, the Daily News reports. “Kris’ impending death cannot be denied, and while there has been negative comments, we believe, as the victims, that this family has suffered enough.”
Fetters was diagnosed with inoperable stage IV breast cancer in September, and the disease has since then spread rapidly throughout her body.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation says in stage IV, the cancer has spread to other organs of the body, most often the bones, liver, or brain. Although this stage is thought to be considered incurable, advances in research and medical technology have allowed more and more women to live longer by treating the disease as a chronic condition. Typically, a stage IV breast cancer prognosis has a poor five-year overall survival rate of 15 percent.
Fetters’ case remains rare since she is the first Iowa inmate serving a life term without the possibility of parole, to have her sentence changed. A U.S. Supreme Court 2012 ruling deems life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles. Following the major ruling, Fetters was re-sentenced with parole as an option in November of this year.
The decision to release Fetters on hospice-only parole has generated conflict among the Iowa Parole Board. Jason Carlstrom, the chair of the board, wanted to delay Fetters’ release to see how her body would respond to the treatment. However, Doris Kelley, a board member, disagreed with Carlstrom and placed emphasis on the safety of Fetters. “Not only are we worried about public safety, we’re also concerned about her safety,” she said. The dying inmate has been the subject of eight different disciplinary reports since 2007 and is considered to be far from a “model inmate.”
Currently, Fetters is helped by trained inmates in the the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women’s hospice unit. She is expected to be transferred from the prison to Hospice Care of Central Iowa in the upcoming weeks. The cancer patient inmate will be under "intense supervision, including regular contact from a parole officer,” during her time in the hospice center.
If Fetters’ condition improves to the point where she is discharged from the hospice, the board will be able to revisit her case and a make decision on her release. Until then, the dying inmate originally sentenced to life, will receive the support of her family during her battle with breast cancer outside bars.
“She needs a momma’s support and prayers, so that’s where I’m going to be,” Fetters’ mom, Denise told the Register.