MANCHESTER — An Iowa teenager who pleaded guilty to shooting his grandparents with his grandfather's rifle is a cold-blooded murderer who should never get another chance at freedom, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Isaiah Sweet, now 19, should serve the maximum sentence of life in prison without parole for the May 2012 slayings of Janet and Richard Sweet at their home in Manchester, District Judge Michael Shubatt ruled.
"He may be young, but he has shown the world who he is," Shubatt said, reading a written ruling in a Delaware County courtroom in Manchester in front of several of the victims' friends and relatives. "He is extremely dangerous. He is now and will continue to be a threat to society."
Sweet had pleaded guilty last year to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the couple, his legal guardians. He was a 17-year-old high school dropout when he shot them in the head on a Friday evening. Their bodies were found on a sofa in their home two days later on Mother's Day, when relatives came over for a gathering.
A day after the killings, Sweet drove 75 miles south to the college town of Iowa City to party with friends. He was briefly held on a traffic charge and released to a counselor. He was eventually arrested in connection with the slayings one day after the bodies were found, following an intense manhunt in which he ran from police on foot in a wooded area of Cedar Rapids.
First-degree murder convictions normally carry automatic prison sentences of life without parole in Iowa. But because Sweet was 17, he qualified for a possible shorter sentence under recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court that require judges to consider whether teenage offenders can be rehabilitated. Those rulings say that, at a minimum, judges must conduct hearings to consider each defendant's situation rather than giving them harsh, automatic sentences.