Charles Waters will be eligible for a parole hearing in seven years after his life sentence was reduced Friday.
Waters, 37, was 17 when he was ordered to serve the rest of his life in prison for the 1997 murder of a Mt. Pleasant man, killed during a robbery at the Interstate-69 rest stop in Calhoun County's Marshall Township.
Waters and Timothy Hollon were convicted on multiple counts of murder, armed robbery and weapons offenses in the Nov. 22, 1997, shooting death of Robby L. Goosen, 25. Goosen was traveling to Alabama and stopped for a nap when he was awakened by Hollon, 23, robbed and killed with a shotgun blast inside his pick-up truck.
"On that night, you and Mr. Hollon were the embodiment of evil," the late Circuit Judge James Kingsley said when sentencing Waters in 1999. "I have never been so exceedingly saddened by such senseless violence as in this case."
On Friday, Goosen's wife, son, father and cousin watched and listened as Kingsley's successor, Circuit Judge Sarah Lincoln, resentenced Waters to 27 to 40 years in prison. Waters now can apply for a parole hearing in seven years. Under his previous sentence, he was not eligible for parole.
"The law changes," Lincoln said. "The (United States) Supreme Court has been clear that people who commit crimes as juveniles, except in the very significant circumstances where people are beyond the capability to be rehabilitated, will not be sentenced to life without parole."
Waters is the third person in Calhoun County convicted of murder as a juvenile and originally sentenced to life without parole who became eligible for a sentence of a term of years after the high court ruled in 2012 that life without parole for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment.
Cases for five other juvenile lifers are pending.
On Friday morning, Jennifer Goosen described her husband as always smiling and a good daddy to their 11-month-old son before he was killed. She said he was traveling south because the family was preparing to move closer to her family home in Alabama.
He stopped at the rest stop and was sleeping in his pick-up when he was awakened by Hollon, who robbed and killed him. Waters was not far away in a vehicle.
Former Assistant Prosecutor David Wallace told separate juries that the two defendants decided to see what it felt like to rob and kill someone.
Goosen gave up his money and didn't resist, but it didn't matter.
"He said he had a baby and a wife at home," Jennifer Goosen said Friday, "so please just take the money and go away. He was unarmed and he did not try to defend himself. He was murdered in cold blood as he sat in his vehicle."
While it was Hollen who pulled the trigger, Jennifer Goosen told Judge Lincoln that Waters helped plan the robbery, thought about it and participated."
Hollon was sentenced as an adult to life without parole.
She said the family has never recovered from the death of her husband.
"He inflicted wounds in our souls that will never completely heal," she said. "His (Waters') actions have not been forgotten and Rob has not been forgotten."
A cousin, Staci Redd, said Robby Goosen was like a brother to her and, "I can't stand to look at a rest area and I can't even think about going to a rest area without getting panicky.
"I always wonder about what Rob's last thoughts were that night. He had a new baby and a new life and did he have any last words to you?" she asked, turning to Waters sitting a few feet away at the defense table. "I can forgive but I can't forget and I can't forget the pain it has caused our family for the last 20 years."
Redd said Goosen's mother, Gale Bunker, has suffered every day after the killing.
"My life is over," Bunker said at Waters' original sentencing in 1999. "I look forward to the day I can go to heaven and be with Rob." She died in December.
Assistant Prosecutor Chris Baldwin said while the courts make changes to the law in consideration of defendants, "we can't forget the changes have an impact on friends and family of loved ones who are victims. We have lost a life that cannot be replaced and there is a son who has never known his father."
Baldwin said Waters was a willing participant and helped with the planning and helped Hollon get away.
But Waters also told others and investigators about what happened and was the reason the Michigan State Police solved the case.
Defense Attorney Laurel Young said Waters fully accepts responsibility, that Hollon was the killer and that the crime was solved because Waters came forward.
"Hollon would be walking the streets today if Mr. Waters had not recognized that what they did was so wrong and the police should be contacted," she said.
Young argued for a sentence of 25 to 40 years and Baldwin for 40 to 60 years.
Waters told the court, "to the friends of family of Mr. Goosen there is nothing I can say or do to make up for the wrong I have done. I hope they will forgive me. I am very sorry for everything I have done."
Lincoln said she understands that Waters has a learning disability and has no other criminal record.
"I feel the defendant is remorseful and understands the impact of what he did."
She said the record shows that Waters understood what he did was wrong and eventually contacted detectives, "choosing to do what was right."
After the sentencing, Goosen's father, Randy Bunker said he had a mixture of emotions because the killing "ruined our whole family. But I am at peace with the sentence."
"I appreciate the fact that he verbalized that he was remorseful," Jennifer Goosen said. "Nothing will change it. Nothing will make it better but at least he had the decency to verbalize that to us."
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