Do you know how you would act or react in a stressful and terrifying situation where your own life could be next? We would all like to think of ourselves as superheros that could stop all evil but we are not bulletproof. Under extreme pressure and duress no one is really sure how they are going to act or what they will do even though we carry the best intentions. We will never know until we are placed in that situation.
Justin was convicted of 1st degree murder (even though he didn’t actually murder anyone) in 2010 and sentenced to natural life without parole. He is currently incarcerated at SCI in Georgetown. Justin has been incarcerated for 13 years now as a gross miscarriage of justice.
Justin’s case is a tragedy. He has been languishing in prison for over a decade, since he was just 18 years old. Destined to die incarcerated because of a senseless murder that two other men, Jesus Aviles and David Hamilton, committed. Justin had no idea a crime was going to be committed until seconds before two men were shot and killed while riding in the front seat of a truck, sandwiched between the two killers. Justin entered a state of shock. It was apparent to him that his life was in danger. Jesus and David made it clear if he had an issue with what happened that he, too, would be just another dead body in the backseat of the truck. Jesus fled the scene and left David to deal with the bodies. David realized that one of the men were still breathing, asked Justin for his butterfly knife and killed the second man. Justin never stabbed the victim. Justin stood there, next to the truck, in fear hoping he wouldn’t be next. Justin knew he had to do whatever David wanted him to do in order to survive. Apprehensively, Justin helped David bury one of the bodies. David told Justin that Jesus was not to be mentioned to the police. Reluctantly, Justin agreed to lie to police in fear that Jesus of David would come after him or his family.
Seven months later with the truth eating Justin alive, he went to the police with the whole story. Justin felt like the victims deserved justice. The police eventually arrested Jesus. Justin began living his life again. He became engaged, got himself his own apartment, and began running his Fathers used tire shop. On March 21st, 2007 Justin was arrested and charged with 1st degree felony murder. Justin was eventually offered a plea deal for manslaughter 2-25 years and conspiracy second degree 0-2 years. Justin was innocent, so he proceeded to trial. At the end of Justin’s trial, they found him guilty of 1st degree felony murder. Two of the jurors signed a letter stating “life in prison or an excessively long sentence would not be appropriate and just punishment for Mr. Erskine’s role in the events in question. The members of the jury respectfully request that the court show leniency and consider a minimal sentence and an opportunity for parole…After much passionate discussion, it is our strong belief that a prolonged sentence would serve no purpose. It is our hope that, after serving his time, Mr. Erskine will have matured and will be able to make more appropriate decisions.” (NOTE: In most states a jury is not allowed to know that a conviction of felony murder is a mandatory life without the possibility of parole. They deliberate blindly and believe that they have a say in the outcome by making such a recommendation. In most cases they learn the outcome on the news and are devastated that they just sent a young life to die in prison)
Under Delaware’s laws, if the offender is an adult (over 18 years old): Murder in the first degree is punishable by death or by imprisonment for the rest of the offender's life. That was the only option for Judge Vaughn. Why is it that Justin must serve life without parole, while Jesus and David will walk free after serving their time? Someone convicted of felony murder who played a passive role is sentenced to more time than the actual killer who is convicted of a different form of homicide. In short the actual trigger man does less time than a non trigger man under this statute. That is not justice!
Justin continues to prove the juror’s letter to be correct. Justin is a member of the lifers group at SCI. He worked in laundry, until a different job caught his eye. He is currently helping care for a blind man who it also incarcerated at SCI. He helps him fill out legal paperwork, write to friends and family, and other daily activities. Justin has taken all classes offered by the department. Justin also is enrolled in college. He does mail in college classes to further his education. The jurors were correct. A lengthy sentence would not be appropriate and serve no purpose. Justin is more than capable of being a positive and productive member of society. The devastation this sentence of death by incarceration has caused Justin, his family, and myself is atrocious. Justin has missed many important celebrations such as his mothers wedding, his sisters wedding, and the birth of his niece. His sister is currently pregnant and he will miss that birth as well. These are just a few that I’ve mentioned. Justin has also missed the opportunity to be with his father while he fought cancer. His father, Mark, was diagnosed in 2014 and went through chemo. Mark’s cancer returned in 2017 and he passed February 11, 2018. Justin was not able to be there for his father in his time of need, or for his family as they mourned Mark’s death. Justin has been robbed of his late teens, twenties, and early thirties due to minimum sentencing laws.
Justin has always believed he would walk free. He has filed seven appeals and refuses to give up hope. He has always pictured himself reuniting with his father when he finally walked free, as Mark has spent tens of thousands of dollars on attorneys trying to free his son. Unfortunately, this will never happen now for Justin and his father.
Justin is an amazing human being. If you took the time to get to know him, you’d realize, similar to the jurors, that life in prison is not the correct life for Justin. He has served 4,794 days in prison. Justin deserves better than death by incarceration. Justin's loved ones are kept up many nights trying to figure out a way to free Justin. Emailing, writing, and calling all kinds of people. Please help them with their fight for justice and the release of Justin Erskine.
Hear from Justin, share his story, let his voice be heard
For more detailed information about Justin's case please visit Justin's blog site. Click here for a comprehensive play by play of what transpired that left a terrified young man incarcerated for a crime he could not control