Soon, the law may prevent someone in Jason Foster’s position from being charged with murder. But Jason and those already serving extreme prison sentences won’t benefit. 

In January 2021, Illinois lawmakers passed extensive, multi-faceted legislation to address some of the most devastating, racially unjust practices that plague communities. Among its provisions, House Bill 3653, Senate Amendment 2 amends Illinois’s felony-murder law. It will likely prevent people from being charged with murder when a third-party kills their co-defendants; it should prevent people in Jason’s shoes from being charged with murder. 

But, this part of the bill, like most sentencing reform legislation in Illinois, isn’t retroactive.

In 2010, Jason and his friends attempted to rob a pawn shop, Jason explained. An employee shot and killed Jason’s friend. Because Jason took part in the robbery, Illinois law allowed prosecutors to charge him with felony-murder for his friend’s death. A felony-murder conviction carries the same sentencing range as all first-degree murder convictions, a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of natural life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Like many young people facing decades in prison, Jason pleaded guilty and received a 20-year sentence. He has another 10 years left to serve. “Unfortunately, my friend’s life was taken, and, in a sense, so was mine. I’ve hurt, I’ve grieved, and I’ve mourned along with our families,” Jason said. 

“I understand my actions and I’m not proud of them; in fact, I’m ashamed that I was easily influenced to make a poor decision that caused me to lose a friend and 10+ years of my life. I acknowledge my wrongdoings and sincerely apologize for my part in this,” Jason said. “(Still), it’s sad to know that even though I wasn’t responsible for my friend’s murder, I am held liable for it. I have been sentenced as if I actually committed a murder. The consequences are way too harsh and unjust!”

While in prison, Jason has sought every opportunity to better himself. He completed college courses in business. He obtained certifications in life skills courses. He consistently works and plays sports. “I use this time wisely to better myself as I look forward soon to reentering the world as a new man,” Jason said. 

Here is Corey Trainor‘s story. 

In 1997, a Cook County jury convicted Corey Trainor of felony-murder. Corey received a 60-year sentence and must serve at least 30 years. 

Corey was just 19 years old when the crime happened. 

Research has established the brain continues developing into our mid-20s, and the part of the brain that allows us to assess risk is among the last to form. “Research suggests emerging adults are more prone to risky and impulsive behaviors, more sensitive to immediate rewards, less future-oriented and more volatile in emotionally charged settings—psychological characteristics that mirror younger juveniles in some respects,” Harvard Kennedy School researchers explain. 

There is growing recognition nationally and in Illinois that people in their late teens and early 20s should not be treated like older adults. In 2019, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Youthful Parole Bill, HB 531, into law, creating parole opportunities for some people younger than 21. This law created the first new parole opportunities in Illinois since the state eliminated the parole system in 1978, however, it is not retroactive so Corey cannot seek to show how he has changed since he was a teenager. 

“Corey is remorseful and ready for leading society in the right direction. He has been educating himself,” Corey’s mom Johnnie said. 

From prison, Corey received his GED and earned a spot on Lake Land College’s Dean’s List. He has completed a range of courses and participated in many programs, including conflict resolution, health-based classes, financial literacy training, and more. He’s now a Certified Master Shingle Applicator Wizard, Master Craftsman, and Insulation Master Craftsman, among other titles. 

Corey is also a certified Master Gardener and he has a Private Pesticides License. He achieved these professional certifications through an intensive training program at Vienna Correctional Center. He learned about horticulture and small-farm management through a United States Department of Agriculture-funded program. 

“What appeals to me is being able to grow my own fruits and vegetables, and possibly bring the skills I learn here to my neighborhood in Chicago,” Corey told Illinois Farmer Today. “I’d like to help improve the food selection.”

“Corey is ready to get out and use all of his potential to help take this economy to the next level. He has a lot of creativity locked up in him. Corey is looking forward to mentoring at-risk youth,” his mom said. 

Corey grew up close to his immediate and extended family. They are still close-knit and want him home. 

“Corey was a good son. He was always outspoken. His middle name, Shamar in Hebrew, means to protect, to guard, to watch, to save life, and to take charge. That’s Corey Shamar Trainer. His middle name speaks for itself,” Johnnie said. 

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