CINCINNATI — A bill that will change Ohio's parole options, signed by Governor Mike DeWine on Saturday, was advocated for by a local mother whose son was murdered in South Cumminsville in 2015.
Suliman Abdul-Mutakallim was walking home with food for his family in June, 2015, when he was shot dead and robbed.
"When three assailants walked up behind him and shot him in the back of the head, they didn't even say 'stick 'em up.' They just shot him," said Rukiye Abdul-Mutakallim, Suliman's mother.
The three then took $40 from Suliman, stole his phone and the food he was bringing home. For Rukiye, it was difficult to ignore that two of the three responsible for her son's death were children: The youngest was just 14 years old.
"I found it unfathomable. These are human beings, aren't they?" said Rukiye. "And then when I saw them in court and they were children? Ahh."
The day the youngest was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Rukiye hugged him and his mother. She has advocated for Senate Bill 256, which would eliminate sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted. The bill would align Ohio with Miller v. Alabama, a Supreme Court case decided in 2012 in which the court ruled against such sentences, labeling them "cruel and unusual punishments."
"For her to recognize that they were children who made terrible, terrible mistakes and has the grace to understand and hold that out to say, 'This is not what I would want for them,' is really remarkable," said Kevin Werner, with the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.
Werner said there are currently 11 prisoners in Ohio affected directly by SB 256, which will retroactively apply to juveniles already convicted and sentenced.
The bill instead adds parole possibilities after 18 years for juvenile charged with crimes other than homicides, according to the Ohio Office of Public Defenders.
There would be parole eligibility after 25 years for homicide and after 30 years for a homicide with up to 2 victims. Any deadlier homicide is ineligible.
28 other states and the District of Columbia have made the change, Office of Public Defenders legislative liaison Niki Clum said.
The change had detractors - including the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. They both argued for judges to have discretion in sentencing life without parole and that passing the law would cause victims to relive trauma through ongoing parole hearings.
Proponents like Abdul-Mutakallim disagree, noting the state parole board would still be an arbiter of the cases.
"This is not automatic release from prison, nor should it be," Clum argued. "Kids deserve a chance at hope and that is what we've accomplished."
"It doesn't go far enough and we know that, but it is the beginning," said Rukiye.
She's also founded the Musketeer Association, an advocacy group aimed at helping people experiencing trauma, and started The Flowerpot Project, which aims to "replace lifeless memorials with live, pollinating plants and flowers," according to the website. The project works to replace impromptu memorials of teddy bears, candles or bottles left at the scene of someone's death with permanent flower pots.
"If we are throwing our babies away, we have no future," said Rukiye.