A Michigan parole board is set to consider the life sentence of a man convicted of murder for essentially scaring a woman to death while burglarizing her home in 1984.
John Eric Aslin, 59, was charged with murder in the death of Ella Stephens, 76, despite not having used a tangible weapon to kill her. In what local reports say was a first-of-its-kind case, Aslin was charged with murder because Stephens died after a burglary at her Mt. Morris Township home on May 21, 1984.
Aslin had reportedly knocked Stephens down twice during the home robbery, but she managed to escape after Aslin fled the home with money taken from her purse. Stephens’ screams reportedly caught her neighbor’s attention and paramedics were called to the scene, but Stephens died a short time later at the hospital.
Pathologists determined that Stephens died of a heart attack brought on by the break-in and robbery, MLive reported, noting that she showed no outward signs of injury. Prosecutors had successfully argued that Aslin had used fear as a weapon to murder Stephens, whose husband died some seven years earlier.
Aslin was sentenced to life in prison for Stephens’ murder on Dec. 27, 1984. According to MLive, the conviction for felony murder — a death that occurs during the commission or attempted commission of certain enumerated felonies, including burglary — was considered a landmark case at the time.
The state Court of Appeals upheld Aslin’s conviction in March of 1989. According to MLive, the court found that the jury could reasonably conclude that Aslin, who was friends with one of Stephens’ two sons, knew of Stephens’ heart condition — she suffered from hardening of the arteries — and that his actions could have caused serious injury or death.
The MLive report notes that the state Supreme Court has refused to reconsider the case.
The upcoming hearing is not the first time the parole board will consider clemency for Aslin. In 2010, the parole board had announced a public hearing to consider a commutation of sentence. The previous year, James Stephens, one of Ella’s sons, said they would fight Aslin’s possible parole.
“He was convicted and sentenced to life without parole,” Stephens said in 2009. “To me, that means life without parole. Not 25 years and (then) hey, let’s talk about it.”
Aslin’s case has garnered publicity over the years: a book called The Nine Lives of John Aslin, available on Amazon, describes Aslin as having been “born into poverty in a crime-ridden town and unaware of his Ojibwe heritage[.]”
Indeed, according to a 2008 profile of Aslin originally published in the Flint Journal, he was separated from his father as a child, only coming back into contact with him after his arrest. Aslin had previously been jailed on a car theft-related charge, and had been participating in a substance abuse treatment program in 1983 until he failed a drug screening and was reportedly kicked out of the program just weeks before the robbery at Stephens’ home.
The book was written by attorney Jill Creech Bauer, who was featured in the MLive profile of Aslin’s as an attorney who helped Aslin with his appeal.
A years-old petition on Change.org also advocates for Aslin’s release.
[Image via Michigan Department of Corrections.]
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