Lifer needs transplant, hopes for prison release

Ex-Gary resident serving two life sentences in Griffith murders seeks clemency
2009-10-08T00:00:00Z Lifer needs transplant, hopes for prison releaseMarisa Kwiatkowski -, (219) 662-5333

CARLISLE, Ind. | At 19, Steve Hernandez thought he was invincible.

Now the 55-year-old Hernandez knows better. Thirty-four years behind prison bars and multiple medical ailments have taken their toll on the former Gary resident.

Hernandez needs a liver transplant but can't get on a donor list while serving life in prison, said his attorney, Mark Small. Taxpayers are footing the bill for Hernandez's hospital trips and medications.

Hernandez said his hope for survival lies in his release.

Hernandez was sentenced in 1975 to two life terms in prison for his role in the murder of Griffith siblings Ivan and Lillian Trajkovich. The Times' attempts to contact the victims' family were unsuccessful.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter has said he opposes officials releasing any offenders sentenced to life in prison.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Hernandez is not eligible for parole because he is serving two life terms. But under state law, he remains eligible for clemency, an idea the state's highest court noted deserves consideration.

Small said he is seeking clemency for Hernandez. At the same time, Small is appealing the ruling relating to Hernandez's case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I'm responsible for my part I played in this, but I feel I've done everything I can do to modify my behavior," Hernandez said. "I want a second chance to prove to myself. I think I've earned it."

Hernandez didn't wield the murder weapon, but court documents show he was robbing the apartment in which the siblings were killed. He was convicted of murder because he was considered an accomplice to the crime, Small said.

One of Hernandez's co-defendants, John Serwatka, confessed to killing the siblings, court records state. Serwatka also was convicted of the murders and sentenced to two terms of life in prison, which he is still serving.

Hernandez said he didn't know what was happening until afterward -- when he saw the blood on his former friend's hands.

"If I'd known what was going to happen there, I would've done anything to change it," he said. "You live with guilt every day of your life."

But Hernandez believes he has served his time. He points out his 34 years of incarceration have been longer than the sentences of many more violent offenders.

While in prison, he earned multiple degrees through both Ball State University and Ivy Tech. He also served on various boards, including Special Olympics.

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