HARTFORD, CT — The family of a teenager who was brutally murdered in 1984 and who just saw her killer set free will be at the state Capitol March 20 to support legislation that would make it tougher for convicted felons to get out of prison before their terms are completed.
The family of Joyce Stochmal, who was 19 when she was murdered and her body dumped into Lake Zoar in Southbury, will be speaking in support of legislation proposed by House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
“We do plan to be at the capitol to testify because we are living proof that the system has failed,” Marianne Stochmal Heffernan, Joyce Stochmal’s sister, said Friday.
“More people will be hurt by the system if reform doesn’t happen. If we can help to effect positive change, we will be turning the horrific death that Joyce suffered into something good,” Heffernan added.
On Thursday, a Waterbury Superior Court judge ordered David J. Weinberg, who was convicted of Joyce Stochmal’s killing, released on time served. The order followed seven years of work by lawyers for the Connecticut Innocence Project, who had discovered problems with the case.
The approval of a “sentence modification” by Waterbury Superior Court Judge Roland D. Fasano allowed Weinberg, 58, to be released after serving 26 years of a 60-year “life sentence” — although credit for good behavior and other time he earned raised the time he is credited with serving to 39 years and 27 days.
The Connecticut Innocence Project got involved in the case in 2010, questioning some of the evidence that it said raised doubts about Weinberg’s guilt. The Innocence Project sought a second trial, but before it was to begin an agreement was reached with Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt.
The deal was for Weinberg to be allowed out of prison on time served, but that his conviction remained — an important distinction for the Stochmal family.
Under the terms of the agreement, Weinberg waived “any and all claims” with regard to the most recent court proceedings and any challenge “to the validity of his underlying conviction or sentence for murder.”
Klarides, who was at the Waterbury court on Thursday, said: “The Stochmal family members have endured so much pain since they lost Joyce nearly 33 years ago, and the early release of her murderer compounds their suffering.”
She said Connecticut needs to get tougher on criminals.
“We need to change the laws to make them tougher and clearer when it comes to crediting violent felons for simply serving their sentences,” Klarides said. “We intend to initiate those much-needed reforms in just a few weeks when we take up these bills.”
Klarides’ bill would prohibit anyone sentenced prior to 1994, such as Weinberg, from earning credits that could possibly reduce their time behind bars.
“If someone had taken this years ago, the man who killed my sister would still be behind bars where he belongs,” Heffernan said. “This is important legislation that demonstrates respect for victims’ families and recognizes that criminals who commit heinous crimes do not deserve to be rewarded for being caged.”
Klarides said she wants to toughen up the Risk Reduction Earned Credits program created in 2011 that allows certain convicts to reduce their time behind bars if they successfully complete programs that would make them less likely to reoffend.
However, any changes to the program are unlikely to impact Thursday’s decision in the Stochmal case.
“We need to take steps now so that no family has to go through what the Stochmal’s witnessed — the killer of Joyce Stochmal caught a break on the sentence he rightfully was given. His status as a convicted murderer did not change today with this decision that he be released,” Klarides said.
Connecticut Innocence Project Director Darcy McGraw, who represented Weinberg, said she wasn’t well versed in the particulars of Klarides’ legislation. She stressed, though, that the decision to let Weinberg out of prison, with time served, was agreed to “because we had uncovered problems” with the case.
“And,” she added, “the state and I agreed that rather go through another trial that sentence modification was preferable,” as long as the conviction stood.
“The family is not satisfied and has blasted me personally, and called my client a monster,” McGraw said.
According to testimony in his trial, Weinberg drove by Joyce Stochmal as she was walking along Route 188 in Seymour to her job at a dog kennel, carrying her purse and a duffel bag holding a makeup case and a change of clothes, including jeans, a T-shirt, and underwear.
Police said he grabbed her and took her to an area beneath Steel Bridge in Newtown, where he stabbed her 17 times and left her body in Lake Zoar, a dammed section of the Housatonic River bordered by Monroe, Newtown, Oxford, and Southbury.
Her body was found three days later by three people out fishing.