Judge ruled earlier that a Michigan man who beat, se*xually assaulted, and ki*lled a 5-year-old girl while he was a teenager will spend the rest of his life behind bars. The man had attempted, in vain, to argue that he had been rehabilitated after serving nearly 30 years in prison.
Nicole VanNoty, age 5, was ki*lled by Jason Benjamin Symonds, 45, in 1994 after he viciously attacked her while he was 16 years old. The victim was a playmate of his younger stepsister, whom Symonds tricked into going into his father’s abandoned basement.
According to a 1997 state court of appeals ruling, “Once in the basement, defendant se*xually molested the victim, and struck her numerous times with the blunt edge of a hatchet, with a wooden dowel wrapped with wire, and with a metal rod, k*illing her.” The defendant buried the nude woman behind the deserted house after wrapping her corpse in a black trash bag. After consenting to a police interview, the defendant allegedly admitted to ki*lling the victim the day after he had allegedly lied to a friend about it.
In 1995, Symonds was found guilty and given a life sentence.
After all, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2016 that mandatory life sentences for minors are unconstitutional and that they are only appropriate for children found guilty of homicide. Even in these situations, the court stated that “a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children, those whose crimes reflect irreparable corruption.”
Given that teenagers’ brains are still developing, every juvenile lifer sentenced prior to that high court decision will have the chance to request a resentencing.
During Symonds’ multi-day resentencing hearing this week, a psychologist testified on his behalf, according to WWMT, stating that the defendant had genuinely turned his life around and deserved another opportunity.
During the course of two days, Dr. Matthew Mendel spent a total of 12 hours with Symonds. The psychologist testified that the convicted kil*ler and ra*pist had kept a record of his history of emotional neglect, racism, and se*xual abuse while he was incarcerated. Mendel claimed that despite Symonds’ 29-year healing process, he “will never forgive himself” for what he did to the young girl.
Symonds acknowledged his own guilt and showed remorse.
At a recent hearing, the condemned man’s attorneys read a statement that said, “I rap*ed and kil*led an innocent 5-year-old girl,” according to WWMT, a CBS/CW affiliate based in Kalamazoo. “I just want to say I’m so sorry, but I know nothing I say will make up for the loss.”
On behalf of the defendant, his appeal team also provided testimony.
According to Jessica Newton, Symonds’ attorney, “what Jason has accomplished especially given where he comes from is extraordinary,” the TV station said. “No one is rehabilitated if he isn’t.”
However, witnesses for the victim’s family and the state also provided an alternative, irredeemable viewpoint.
According to an impact statement provided by VanNoty’s mother, Robin Buonodono, “justice won’t take away the pain I’ve suffered every day,” WWMT reported. “He shouldn’t get a second chance, just as she didn’t.”
David Gilbert, the prosecutor for Calhoun County, stated that a child ki*ller could never truly recover.
The state attorney stated in court, “There are no 5-year-olds in prison,” according to WWMT. “How do you verify that he has turned his life around after kil*ling and ra*ping five-year-olds?”
Symonds might have received a new sentence of years with the possibility of release.
The presiding judge in the case declared on Friday afternoon that Symonds was “entitled to a sentence of life without parole.”
Buonodono let out a cry of relief and triumphantly shook both of her fists in the air as the decision was made.