By Michael Abeyta

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (CBS4) – In 1998, Nathan Ybanez, 16, strangled his own mother at their Highlands Ranch home. He claims he was being abused.

His friend Erik Jensen, 17, was there, and the two tried to cover it up. In Douglas County Court Wednesday, Jensen admitted to his role in the crime.

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Erik Jensen (credit: CBS)

“What I really did is, I sat three feet away from someone who was dying. I sat three feet away from her, and I didn’t save her. I could have. I told myself a whole bunch of lies back in the day that there’s no way I could have saved her, but I for sure could have. I for sure could have stopped that. I could have stopped it before it even happened and I didn’t. Then afterwards just to make it worse I tried to cover it all up to cover up my shame,” he said.

A court would later sentence both teens to life without parole. Since then Jensen got his G.E.D. and an associates degree. He also started a CrossFit program for inmates to help combat addiction. He’s also considered a model prisoner.

(credit: CBS)

He says he changed his life to honor the life of the woman he watched his friend kill even though he knew his good behavior wouldn’t get him out of prison any sooner.

“I’m going to be the leader and the good man that I always say that I was. I’m actually going to be that,” he said in court.

(credit: CBS)

Then in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles are unconstitutional. That meant convicted criminals who were teens at the time of their conviction and given life sentences without parole like Jensen and Ybanez would need to be re-sentenced.

On Wednesday, Jensen and his attorneys cited his nearly spotless prison record and reputation and argued that at 37 years old he is a reformed man. They hoped the judge would take all of that into consideration and show Jensen some mercy.

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Colorado sentencing rules require the judge to sentence Jensen to at least life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years. That would put Jensen in his 50s. The judge ended up reducing his sentence to the lowest penalty allowed by Colorado law, life with possibility of parole after 40 years.

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The judge said she hopes Jensen keeps up his behavior.

“I don’t want you to take from this to mean that nothing that you have done is important,” said the judge.

Jensen’s father, Curt Jensen, thinks Colorado’s sentencing laws are unfair. He has tried to change them at the state legislature before but reforms he has proposed have fallen short. Now, he hopes Gov. Jared Polis will get involved to commute Jensen’s sentence.

“It’s his duty, in my belief, to do it and fix the problem which has gone on for too long,” said Curt.

Gov. John Hickenlooper commuted the sentence of Nathan Ybanez, the man who actually committed the murder, but did not commute Jensen’s sentence. Ybanez could be released in 2020.

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Without intervention from Polis, the soonest Jensen could get out is in 10 years but likely it will be closer to 20.

Michael Abeyta