Board denies parole request from woman convicted of double homicide
BILLINGS, Mont. - A woman convicted of double homicide was denied parole Tuesday. Instead, the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole recommended Justine Winter for an inmate employment program, but she'll have to be accepted first.
Winter has been in the state women's prison in Billings serving a 15-year sentence since 2011, after a jury convicted her on two counts of deliberate homicide.
In 2009, Winter, who was 16 years old at the time, crashed her car head-on into another vehicle, north of Kalispell along Highway 93.
In the minutes before that crash, Winter sent text messages to her boyfriend, threatening to kill herself by wrecking her car.
The crash killed 35-year-old Erin Thompson, who was 4 months pregnant, and her 13-year-old son Caden Odell.
While family members of the victims weren't present, Winter said she would have told them she was sorry.
That apology is long overdue, as family members of the victims and community members in the Flathead criticized her for not apologizing when she was sentenced for the crimes.
"If I could turn and look at them and give them the sincere apology they have deserved since this happened," said Winter.
Some family members sent letters to the board, saying Winter hasn't done enough time.
Winter pleaded with the board, saying she regrets her decision to drive into oncoming traffic that night in March 2009.
"It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking for the family and I -- it gives me sincere regret for the pain and hurt I've caused them," said Winter.
Winter's family says that regret will help her have an impact down the line.
"She can definitely make some kind of a difference if she was able to -- somewhere, somehow," said Mary Winter, Justine's mother.
That's what Winter told the board she would do if released. "To go back to my high school that I graduated from and speak about the choices I have made and the consequences," said Winter.
The board asked Winter what she has learned. She told them even though she still doesn't remember the accident, as she was badly injured herself, "I learned not to make excuses for the actions and choices I made," she said.
In the end, it wasn't enough for the board to agree to release her.
"With the loss of a life, it's hard to determine what an acceptable amount of time to exchange for that life," said Fern Johnson, Executive Director of the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole.
Board members recommended Winter for a prerelease center program as an inmate worker. It wasn't what she wanted, but Winter thanked them for the recommendation.
If Winter is accepted into the prerelease inmate worker program, she will be doing things like working in the kitchen, maintenance and groundskeeping.