Jeffrey Ragland faces at least another year in prison.
But a recent defeat could be the first step toward release. The Iowa Board of Parole reviewed Ragland's case for the first time Tuesday and declined parole for the 44-year-old inmate. The board also declined to interview the Council Bluffs native.
Ragland will be up for parole again next year, per Iowa code that all eligible convicts go before the board every year.
Ragland is serving a life sentence at the Anamosa State Penitentiary for his role in the 1986 murder of 19-year-old Timothy Sieff. He originally was denied the possibility of parole, but decisions by the U.S. and Iowa Supreme Courts regarding life sentences without parole for minors paved the way for the review by the Iowa board
In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles constituted a cruel and unusual punishment.
On the heals of that decision, Iowa Fourth District Court Judge Timothy O'Grady said that Ragland should be eligible for parole immediately. At a resentencing hearing, O'Grady gave Ragland a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 25 years served. Ragland had already been in prison for 26 years.
The state of Iowa appealed, arguing that a commutation issued by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad – also after the U.S. Supreme Court decision – had changed Ragland's sentence from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole after 60 years.
The Iowa Supreme Court upheld O'Grady's ruling, stating Branstad's was similar to life without parole and ran afoul of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said such uniform sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional.
Fred Scaletta with the Iowa Department of Corrections said that, with the parole board's decision, a classification committee at the penitentiary will begin the process of determining what programs and processes Ragland needs to go through to be ready for life outside prison.
“Lifers,” Scaletta said when referring to prisoners that come in without the possibility of parole, “when they walk in the door, we don't anticipate them leaving. Now we need to look at programs necessary to use to change their lives, get them ready for the outside.”
Scaletta said programs that prepare inmates for freedom include education classes – including drivers education – anger management, substance abuse and many more.
In 1986, a jury found then-17-year-old Ragland guilty of first-degree murder, and he was ordered to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Sieff died from head injuries he suffered after being struck with tire iron during a fight in the parking lot of the Rog and Scotty's Supermarket on West Broadway. Ragland's friend, Matthew Gill, wielded the tire iron. Two other teens with Ragland and Gill also were charged in the assault.
Gill and the two other teens accepted plea bargains in the case. Gill pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was paroled after three years.
In a letter to the court in 2012, Gill said he was “solely responsible” for Sieff's death.
Gill disputed allegations that Ragland was the “ringleader” that night and insisted that poor decisions led to the fight and not the fact that the teens were “unlucky enough” to be with Ragland that evening.
“In fact, looking back on it now it is glaringly obvious that it was Jeff who was unlucky to be with me that night, not the other way around,” Gill wrote. “Jeff had only been with us for less than 30 minutes that night, yet he is still in prison 26 years later because of the terrible decisions that I made.”
The Iowa Board of Parole denied Ragland's first chance at freedom in part because of concerns about the inmate's violent past, board Chairman Jason Carlstrom said.
Before the Sieff slaying, Ragland had been arrested on an assault and a dangerous weapons charge. Scaletta confirmed that Ragland was also part of a 1996 prison break that ended when he and a group of inmates were caught in Texas.