Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Natural Born Killers

Sentenced

In July 1998, the state's highest court ruled 5-2 that Sarah's Mississippi confession could be used against her in Louisiana. Sarah, the court noted, could have had a provision inserted into her statement that any information she gave to Mississippi authorities would be done in confidence and not used against her elsewhere. Her failure to do this, and her inability to realize that statements made in one locale could be of use to other authorities attempting to solve crimes, was her own fault, the high court said in its ruling. Chief Justice Pascal Calogero and one other justice, ruling for the minority, tried unsuccessfully to claim that Sarah was protected under the Fifth Amendment's provision against self-incrimination.

Chief Justice Pascal Calogero
Chief Justice Pascal Calogero

Left with no recourse, Sarah pleaded guilty to all the charges against her in October 1998. Sentencing was set for the following month. Sarah could have been sentenced to up to 120 years in prison; instead it was lowered to 35. Boren contended that the State Supreme Court ruling didn't influence Sarah's change of plea, and that she had wanted to plead guilty from the start, but he strongly advised her not to. Sarah's guilty plea, Boren said, was a means of attaining "closure," both for herself and her family and for the Byers family. Present in the courtroom that day were members of Sarah's family, minus Jim who was presiding over a criminal trial in Muskogee, and members of the Savage family.

In December 1998, Ben was also sentenced to 35 years in prison for his part in the Byers shooting and armed robbery. He was later extradited to Mississippi where, based on his guilty plea, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the state prison in Parchman, Mississippi. Sarah was remanded to the Louisiana Women's Correctional Facility in St. Gabriel, Louisiana.

 

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