Elizabeth Klein has known her father only behind bars.

She was 8 months old in 1993 when 17-year-old Jason Means was picked up on kidnapping and murder charges. He was convicted on those charges and sentenced to a lifetime in prison that a Scott County judge upheld Friday.

Klein, who was raised by adoptive parents, is now 21, and following Friday's hearing, she shared with the Quad-City Times how she discovered him.

Someone handed her a newspaper clipping and told her, "That's your dad," she said.

Means was one of six defendants accused in the slaying of 17-year-old Michelle Jensen of Davenport.

"I needed to know where I came from," Klein said.

She could have chosen to resent her father and have nothing to do with him. Instead, she gave him a chance.

She wrote him a letter. He wrote back, saying, "I'm so glad you're doing well. I've been praying for this day my entire life."

Means' family doesn't understand why Scott County District Judge Joel Barrows upheld the life sentence and said Means will appeal. The family had hoped Barrows would reduce the sentence to include a mandatory minimum and allow Means to become eligible for parole sooner.

"The law is supposed to give him a chance at a meaningful life outside prison, not let him rot," Means' mother, Cheryl Clark, said.

The law she referred to stems from a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juveniles could not be given life-without-parole sentences for non-homicide crimes. The ruling has affected Means' and other local cases.

"This is not an illegal sentence," Barrows said in court Friday. "He has the possibility for parole right now."

Clark said that's not good enough, especially because Means already has been before the parole board several times and has been denied.

In the meantime, Klein looks forward to her visits with Means, including one planned this weekend. She first met him a year ago at Anamosa State Penitentiary.

"When he walked through the door, I knew exactly who he was, and he knew exactly who I was," she said.

The visit lasted two hours in a crowded room. Klein admits it's not a typical father-daughter relationship.

The high school dropout has earned his GED in prison. He serves as a eucharistic minister and cook for inmates. He strums the guitar in his free time.

He has come a long way from the teenage "brat" his mother described trying to raise after the death of her older son, Jimmy, after a bout of kidney failure.

"Jason just went downhill after that," Clark said.

The shy, quiet kid began hanging around the wrong crowd, especially boys such as Justin Voelkers, who later would be a co-defendant at the murder and kidnapping trial.

Jensen's body was found the morning of Aug. 29, 1993, along Chapel Hill Road just outside of Davenport.

She had been at a party in town with Means, Voelkers and several others when she refused to let the group use her car to commit a robbery.

Clark recalled from testimony and her son's own words that Means and Voelkers left the party with Jensen in her car. Voelkers pulled off on the side of the road because Means had to go to the bathroom, and Jensen got out of the car and began walking back toward town.

Voelkers followed her when Means got back in the car and began fidgeting with the radio. That's when he heard the gunshot, Clark said.

"He was there, but he didn't do anything," Clark said of Means.

Voelkers was 18 at the time and convicted of adult first-degree murder and kidnapping charges. Serving life in prison, he was brought back to the Scott County Jail on Thursday. Clark said he was supposed to testify at Means' sentencing hearing but was not called.

Means' attorney Phil Ramirez couldn't be reached afterward to discuss the case.

Means and Jensen were friends who were both trying to fit in with a crowd of rebels and followers, Clark said.

He's 38 now. She would be 38.

"He could have been a hero that night, and he chose to be a murderer," Cheryl Dittmer, Jensen's mother, said after Friday's court hearing. "He could have put a stop to that."

Dittmer said that her younger daughter, Veronica Anderson, now in her 30s, named her baby, born in December, after Michelle.

Dittmer has shown up at Means' court appearances and petitioned at the state Capitol to keep Means and another juvenile co-defendant, Tony Hoeck, behind bars the rest of their lives.

"This whole thing has taken over my life," she said.

The same can be said of Klein, who in two years has researched her father's case, hoping one day to be reunited with him.

"I haven't known him very long," she said. "In this short time, he's offered better guidance than a lot of people I've known a long time. He's being the father he was never able to be."