Arkansas Supreme Court returns juvenile case to lower court - Beaumont Enterprise

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A circuit court must reconsider the joint case of two inmates serving mandatory life terms in prison without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In separate 5-2 majority rulings, the high court said the First Judicial Circuit Court improperly ordered resentencing last year for Aaron Hodgeand James Grubbs before addressing probable cause by holding a hearing to determine that they were younger than 18 when they committed the crimes. The lower court had been considering whether they should receive new sentences in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 ruling that barred mandatory no-parole life sentences for juvenile offenders.

A hearing on age determination likely will happen this summer in the circuit court, according to Hodge's and Grubbs' attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig.

Hodge was convicted of capital murder in the 1995 shooting deaths of his stepfather, stepsister and mother. Grubbs was convicted of capital murder in the 1995 death of a classmate whose body was found bound, beaten and submerged in a creek.

The cases were heard in a joint oral argument before the state Supreme Court last month, but the justices issued separate opinions.

During the previous circuit court hearing, Rosenzweig said, the attorney general's counsel said it didn't dispute the men's ages, and Circuit Court Judge L. T. Simes took that as a concession that the men were the correct age when he ruled on retroactivity.

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said regardless of the inmates' ages, the office argued that the lower court erred because the hearing to verify the ages was not held.

Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood argued in the dissenting opinions that the majority inappropriately based its ruling the court's Hobbs v. Gordon ruling.

In that case, the high court similarly sent inmate Ulonzo Gordon's retroactivity appeal back to circuit court for a probable cause hearing to determine age. Wood wrote there was a "legitimate dispute" because of an error in Gordon's records, but no such dispute exists for Grubbs or Hodge.

Rosenzweig, who also represents Gordon, said the lower court settled the age dispute in Gordon's favor.

"That (Gordon case) is in the basket at the (Arkansas) Supreme Court with the state appealing on the issue of retroactivity," he said, noting that the decision the court makes in that case would likely affect Grubbs, Hodge and the more than 50 other inmates serving similar sentences in Arkansas.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Louisiana case arguing in favor of retroactivity later this year.


Boston Marathon bomber: Would life without parole be punishment enough?

Jury deliberations on whether to execute Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or sentence him to life in prison without parole could begin Wednesday. The use of life without parole sentences in the US is growing rapidly.

By Henry Gass, Staff writer MAY 13, 2015

BOSTON — Ken Hartman is 55 and healthy, but he says he feels like he was killed decades ago. When he was 19, he beat a homeless man to death in an alcohol- and drug-fueled rage, and he has spent the past 35 years in prison. So long as he is alive, he will not be eligible to leave.

Mr. Hartman is among the 50,000 prisoners in the United States serving life without parole sentences, a number that has increased 22 percent since 2008, according to a 2013 report by the Sentencing Project. And on Wednesday, the jury in the Boston Marathon bombings trial will begin deliberating over whether to add Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to that group.

In his case, life without parole is seen as the more humane option. The other alternative is death, and there is some evidence that, as states turn more to life without parole, it is partly from a humane desire to move away from the ultimate punishment. The number of people sentenced to death in the US has declined from 3,600 to 3,000 since 2000, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Yet the rapid expansion of life without parole also speaks to the array of laws, spawned by the get-tough-on-crime 1980s, that remain on the books and mandate such sentences. At least 3,000 people sentenced to life without parole were convicted of nonviolent offenses, a report by the American Civil Liberties Union found.

racks in that mind-set are beginning to appear, as states, Congress, and the Obama administration reconsider mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Polls show growing support for reforming such laws. But most experts agree that so long as the death penalty exists, life without parole will continue to exist in its wake – a humane alternative of debatable humaneness.

“The death penalty operates to basically overshadow life in prison without parole,” says Marion Vannier, a criminologist at the University of Oxford in Britain researching a doctoral dissertation on life without parole in the US.

The quadrupling of life without parole

When Hartman was sentenced in 1980, life without parole was a relatively new sentence in California, where he is serving his time in prison. It had been introduced after the US Supreme Court banned the death penalty in 1972. (It was reinstated in 1976.) California, along with several other states, added life without parole as a fallback punishment for the worst criminals.

Hartman was considered to be among that group because he was judged to have attempted to rob the victim as well. When he was sentenced, Hartman says, “It didn’t seem real.”

“At the time, I don’t think people saw life without possibility of parole as life without possibility of parole,” says Hartman in a phone interview with the Monitor from California State Prison-Los Angeles County prison in Lancaster.

Life without parole prisoners call it "death in slow motion" or "the other death penalty," and Hartman has started an advocacy group named the Other Death Penalty Project to raise awareness about life without parole sentences.

Since Hartman was sentenced, life without parole has gone from being an extremely rare sentence to being a far more common one. Mandatory minimum sentences for “habitual offenders” as well as the harsh sentencing included in the war on drugs have contributed to a quadrupling of the number of prisoners who received life without parole sentences between 1992 and 2012, according to the Sentencing Project report.

While most are in prison for homicide, more than 30 percent of the inmates sentenced to life without parole in eight states were convicted of something other than homicide, the report found. In Washington State, for example, two-thirds of the people sentenced to life without parole since 1994 received that sentence because of the state's three-strikes law.

In at least 37 states, life without parole is available for convictions like burglary, robbery and carjacking, according to the report. Florida leads the country in life without parole prisoners, with almost 8,000.

“The idea of whole-life prison sentences easily won approval in a period of growing skepticism about the value of rehabilitation,” says the report. “Instead, punishment and incapacitation became identified as the primary goals of imprisonment and many abandoned the idea of reforming offenders.”

'Aging out' of crime

Data show that crime has steadily declined since the 1980s, with violent crime rates now at their lowest point in decades. But as time passes, that crackdown is having knock-on effects, such as overcrowded prisons straining state budgets. Life without parole sentences are particularly relevant to budgets, given that prisons spend two to three times more to incarcerate an elderly prisoner – on average about $70,000 a year – than a younger one, according to Marie Gottschalk, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, a growing body of research suggests many people “age out” of criminal behavior. A 2004 report by the Sentencing Project notes that criminals released after receiving life sentences with parole were rearrested at much lower rates than the overall prison population – 21 percent versus 68 percent.

Nearly 2,500 of the 50,000 inmates sentenced to life without parole were convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18, the Sentencing Project found.

“People will debate if people are deserving of long term sentences and if societies should punish, and that’s a legitimate debate to have,” says Marc Mauer, director of the Sentencing Project. “[But] we do know there are many people who have changed substantially after a couple decades of incarceration and don’t present nearly the public safety risk they did at the time of their crime.”

Hartman agrees, saying he would barely be able to recognize his 19-year-old self.

“I can’t even imagine the person I was when I was 19, it’s almost like another human being. And I think that’s probably true for every human being,” adds Hartman.

A humane alternative?

For Mr. Tsarnaev, the question of life without parole is different. If he were sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, it would be to spare him from execution.

But Hartman, for one, takes issue with the argument that life without parole is more humane than the death penalty.

“You’re basically sentenced to a long, slow death,” he says. “It’s like you were killed a long time ago, and now you’re sort of waiting around for it to come to an end.”

It is an issue that has come up in the Tsarnaev trial in Boston. In trying to spare Tsarnaev’s life, his defense lawyers have argued that his life in the super maximum security prison in Florence, Colo., will be punishment enough.

“There is no privacy. A camera will be trained on him 24 hours a day," defense attorney David Bruck said. "There will be no autobiography, no execution date to bring him back into relevance."

“This is where the government keeps other terrorists who used to be famous but aren’t anymore,” he added.

Compared with executing a criminal, life without parole can appear more humane. But that comparison is unhelpful, suggests Ms. Vannier of Oxford.

“It’s this bizarre situation where you’ve got two extreme forms of sentences, and one attracts attention, [while] the other basically attracts none,” she says.

Death penalty abolitionists have supported the expansion of life without parole as more states have used it as an alternative to the death penalty.

2010 poll in California found that support for capital punishment fell from about 70 percent to 41 percent when respondents were presented with life without parole as an alternative. A Boston-area poll taken in the first weeks of the Tsarnaev trial found that the majority of respondents favored life without parole over the death penalty.

“Life without parole will always come second as long as the death penalty is on the books,” says Vannier.

In some ways, that makes life without parole worse than a death sentence, Hartman says, because criminals sentenced to death are more a focus for activists and lawyers.

“People sentenced to death exist in a separate universe in many ways,” says Hartman. “They have more legal options coming, they have more attention from abolitionist groups and legal support groups.”

In 2012, death row inmates in California state prisons took the radical step of opposing the commutation of their sentences precisely because they would have been transferred to a life without parole sentence. In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that life without parole was “inhuman and degrading” and violated the European Convention of Human Rights because prisoners must have some prospect of release and incentive to rehabilitate.

Seeking solutions

For most life without parole opponents, the solution is simple: replace it with life with parole. Mr. Mauer has suggested a 20-year cap on federal prison terms with an option for parole boards or judges to add more time if necessary to protect the public.

But such a solution isn’t so easy. Victims’ rights groups argue that parole hearings amount to a form of recurring torture. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, whose sister was murdered while pregnant, says that parole hearings represent “a lifelong nightmare” for victims’ families.

“Whatever the outcome, at some point for us the process has to end,” adds Ms. Bishop-Jenkins, who is also president of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murders. “Could you at least give us that? A point at least where we don’t have to go to court and look at this offender?”

“That’s what victims’ families need. At some point we need some legal finality,” she adds.

The US is beginning to at least consider some of these questions. There is bipartisan support in Congress for reduced mandatory minimum sentences, and a decline in death sentences points to a broader reconsideration of the punishment. The American Pharmacists Association, for example, recently voted to oppose participation in executions.

The question, Hartman says, is whether that will simply increase the number of people in prison for life with no hope of ever getting out.

“The problem is, I imagine there’ll be 100,000, 150,000 people sentenced to a long, slow death in prison until people finally step back and think, ‘Is this the right thing to do? Does this make sense?’ ”


Parole board grants parole to man who was 16 when he murdered Lawrence cab driver - Metro - The Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Parole Board has granted parole to a man who was 16 when he fatally shot a Lawrence taxicab driver six times during a robbery, making him the ninth inmate serving a life sentence for a crime he committed as a juvenile to be granted release under a 2013 court ruling.

In a 5-to-2 vote, the board decided Jose “Joey” Tevenal Jr., 47, could be released to a long-term residential program after spending one year in a lower-security prison, completing substance abuse treatment known as Correctional Recovery Academy, and adhering to other conditions. The decision was issued Tuesday and made public Thursday.

“I can say on Joey’s behalf that he hopes to be a good citizen when he eventually is released to the community and he really hopes to make a positive contribution,” Elizabeth Doherty, Tevenal’s lawyer, said.

Tevenal has spent 30 years in prison for killing Paul Morel, 38, on Feb. 2, 1985, at the Hancock Courts housing development in Lawrence. Morel was summoned there as part of a plot hatched by Tevenal and two friends “to do a cab and get some money,” records show.

Former Lawrence mayor Kevin J. Sullivan said he wrote a letter asking the board to deny Tevenal’s request for parole. The random and cold-blooded nature of the killing shook residents, he said.

“It just led to a feeling of unease and the whole city was a victim, not just Mr. Morel,” Sullivan said.

Tevenal was convicted of first-degree murder on Feb. 10, 1986, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He became eligible to seek release because of a decision by the US Supreme Court that was expanded by the state Supreme Judicial Court into a ban on life-without-parole sentences for those convicted of murders as juveniles.

‘Tevenal has demonstrated . . . the necessary foundation for a successful transition to society.’

Massachusetts Parole Board decision 

The ruling granted a chance at freedom for 65 inmates. So far, 19 of those inmates have gone before the board, said Felix Browne, spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Nine were granted parole and seven were denied, Browne said. Decisions in the other cases are pending.

Tevenal appeared before the board on Feb. 26.

The five-page decision said Tevenal met the legal standard for parole suitability.

“Tevenal has demonstrated through his conduct and insight that he has acquired the necessary foundation for a successful transition to society,” the decision said. “Tevenal has engaged in and benefited from rehabilitation.”

Parole Board chairwoman Charlene Bonner and member Ina Howard-Hogan opposed releasing Tevenal, the decision said. Citing the “nature of the offense” and Tevenal’s “lack of programming to address his substance abuse issues,” they favored revisiting his case in two years.

Morel’s family and representatives for Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett testified against parole for Tevenal. A spokeswoman for Blodgett declined to comment Thursday.

Messages left for Morel’s family were not returned Thursday.

Doreen Bartlett, who owned the taxicab company Morel worked for when he was killed, said she opposes freedom for Tevenal. “I’m disappointed that someone would be let out of prison just because they apologized that they took another life,” she said. “How can you take someone’s life and be let out of prison?”

The parole board said in its decision that Tevenal completed many rehabilitative programs in prison even before court decisions made him eligible for release.

Those include mental health counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous, and programs in anger management and emotional awareness. Tevenal also obtained his GED and certificates in culinary arts; computer skills; small engine repair; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning; and other areas, the decision said.

“He’s never forgotten that crime. He never thought he’d get out, but he did all these programs to help himself grow, learn, and change,” said Sue Burkart, a retired nurse from Waltham who befriended Tevenal during his imprisonment.

In its decision, the board wrote that Tevenal suffered physical abuse and emotional neglect as a child, particularly at the hands of his mother who was so immersed in her Pentecostal faith that she “began to neglect her children’s emotional needs.”

Tevenal lived in a housing development in Lawrence and attended city public schools, which had a “very high dropout rate,” the decision said. The city faced prevalent unemployment and crime.

By age 16, the decision said, Tevenal had dropped out of school, regularly drank to excess, smoked marijuana daily, and used other illegal drugs. While in prison, a clinical neuropsychologist discovered Tevenal suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was hit by a car while riding a bicycle at age 13 and fractured his skull, the decision said.

Tevenal felt rejected and unloved by his parents, and acquired a firearm to “project a fearsome ‘tough guy’ image,” ultimately culminating with Morel’s killing, the decision said.

Doherty, Tevenal’s lawyer, said she visited him Thursday at MCI-Shirley.

“All this took place at a young age,” she said. “He’s really not the same person that he was at 16.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi


Inside Track: Bryan Stevenson: This Public Interest Lawyer Could Change America:

Legal visionary, Bryan Stevenson, opens the conference speaking on the need for humanitarian change in the prison system in the U.S. Photo Credit: Nina Subin

Legal visionary, Bryan Stevenson, opens the conference speaking on the need for humanitarian change in the prison system in the U.S.

Photo Credit: Nina Subin

Alabama public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson is a tireless advocate for indigent defendants, prisoners, and kids sentenced to die in prison. But he’s also a powerful voice for change in America’s justice system, and he’s coming to Wisconsin June 25.

Legal visionary, Bryan Stevenson, opens the conference speaking on the need for humanitarian change in the prison system in the U.S.

May 6, 2015 – He’s called “America’s Mandela,” and it’s true that Alabama public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson is a powerful and reasoned voice for change.

When he’s not representing wrongfully convicted individuals who are waiting to die by execution, or kids sentenced to life in prison, he’s trying to address the failings of America’s justice system, including the consequences of mass incarceration.

When he’s not writing a New York Times Bestsellerabout his experiences, he’s serving on a presidential task force on 21st Century policing, commissioned to identify the conflict and distrust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

And when Stevenson is not teaching race and poverty law at New York University Law School, he’s doing what many lawyers set out to do when they first decide to be lawyers: he’s changing the world, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute.

Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, is bringing his message of change to Wisconsin this summer.

He’s a featured speaker at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s upcoming Annual Meeting and Conference, June 25-26, at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva.

The opening speaker, Stevenson will discuss problems in America’s justice system, and how lawyers can help change the narrative that fuels racial inequality, racial disparity, and allows America to accept itself as the biggest incarcerator in the world.

“I’m interested in talking about lawyering and the way we problem-solve as a community on a range of issues, particularly related to criminal justice reform,” said Stevenson in a phone interview from his EJI office in Montgomery.

“It’s important to deal more honestly with the way the narrative of racial difference has emerged in our society and undermined our ability to think fairly when it comes to people of color, particularly the boys and men who are suspected or accused of crimes.”

Righting Wrongs, Urging Mercy

Stevenson grew up poor in segregated, rural Delaware, in the 1960s and 70s. He graduated from a small college in Pennsylvania, and earned admission to Harvard Law School. In 1983, he took an internship that shaped the course of his professional life.

As a 23-year-old law student, Stevenson did a one-month legal internship with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC), which assisted people on death row in Georgia. The experience focused Stevenson’s energy in a clearly defined way.

“My short time on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system, that maybe we judge some people unfairly,” Stevenson writes in his bestselling book, Just Mercy, released in 2014.

“The more I reflected on the experience, the more I recognized that I had been struggling my whole life with the question of how and why people are judged unfairly.”

Now, Stevenson works through the nonprofit EJI to litigate on behalf of indigent defendants, including those with wrongful conviction cases, juveniles facing adult treatment for crimes, and others impacted by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct.

Just Mercy details his representation of a death row inmate. Just recently, Stevenson and other EJI lawyers won a long fight to exonerate Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row for two murders he did not commit.

The case drew national attention. Stevenson and EJI also litigate cases on behalf of imprisoned kids, working toward changes in sentencing laws for juveniles.

In 2011, Stevenson was at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, arguing that sentencing children under the age of 15 to life in prison with no possibility of parole, even for first-degree homicide, is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional.

In Wisconsin, persons age 10 and older are subject to adult treatment for first-degree murder, and sentencing courts have discretion to impose life without parole sentences.

Stevenson lost, but won a landmark juvenile law case at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012. In Miller v. Alabama (consolidated with Jackson v. Hobbs), the court sided with Stevenson in ruling that mandatory sentencing laws that put children under 18 in prison for life with no possibility of parole, even for murder, are unconstitutional.

The ruling did not impact Wisconsin, which leaves sentencing decisions to the discretion of the judge. But Stevenson believes that states like Wisconsin, which have the discretion to impose life sentences on kids as young as 10, should reconsider.

“I just don’t think that there are any 10 or 11 year olds that should be prosecuted as adults,” he said. “I really do believe there should be a minimum age for trying kids as adults, and it should be substantially higher than 10. I certainly count Wisconsin among the states where there is a need for reform when it comes to prosecuting children.”

“Even when kids don’t get prosecuted as adults, the fact that they are threatened with that can potentially be an issue that shapes the process and treatment that they get,” he said. ”It’s coercive and inconsistent with child status and protecting child rights.”

Truth and Reconciliation

Providing legal representation to the wrongly convicted, minors facing life, and other indigent individuals, is only one aspect of Stevenson’s work. Through his words, Stevenson is moving the country to address the truth of America’s past racism, and begin the process of reconciliation.

In 2012, Stevenson delivered a TED Talk about the failings of America’s justice system, mass incarceration, and racial inequality. It has generated more than 2.2 million Internet views and received the longest standing ovation in the conference’s 30-year history.

He notes that mass incarceration – about 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the U.S., a number that has quadrupled over in four decades – has collateral consequences. And he notes that indigent persons often face unequal treatment.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent,” Stevenson said in his TED Talk.

Stevenson also notes racial disparities in the justice system. African-Americans are imprisoned at least eight times as often as whites. One-in-three black men between the ages of 18 and 30 is in jail, in prison, on probation or parole. According to a 2013 study, black males in Wisconsin are 10 times more likely than white males to serve time.

But why? Stevenson says minorities, especially black men, are subject to implicit bias that impacts arrest, charging, conviction, and sentencing decisions. This bias is the product of a narrative that treats African-Americans as more capable of crime.

“It’s about understanding the way our history of racial inequality has set us up to carry around a narrative of racial difference, making it harder for people of color when accused or suspected of crimes,” said Stevenson during a phone interview.

“This narrative creates a presumption of guilt or a presumption of dangerousness, which can lead to implicit bias,” he said. “We are just so used to thinking in this way that we don’t even appreciate the way its influencing justice, or creating injustices.”

In order to address this bias, and change the narrative that leads to it, Stevenson says America and its communities must confront its dark past.

“It really does begin with slavery and the way in which we never dealt with it,” Stevenson said. “The country created a different legal relationship to people of color than to people who are in the majority, and we never honestly addressed that history.”

“Then we had decades of lynching and racial violence in the Deep South, but it had implications for states like Wisconsin, too,” he said. “The African-Americans that came to Milwaukee came as refugees from terror. We never dealt with that history.”

Even the conversation about segregation, Stevenson said, was complicated by a narrative of fear and anger that communities did not confront.

“I don’t think we committed ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation in a way that we should have following the civil rights activism of the 1960s,” he said. “That just left us vulnerable to the narrative that undermines our ability to be fair with one another in the current workings of the criminal justice system. It’s part of the long historical arc of our country’s struggles with racial inequality that have given rise to these issues.”

As a way to confront the past, EJI published a recent report titled, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” The report notes that almost 4,000 African-American men, women, and children were victims of “terror lynchings” in 12 southern states between 1877 and 1950, and documents some of the horrific details involved.

The report urges American communities to address oppressive histories and “concretize the experience through discourse, memorials, monuments, and other acts of reconciliation” to “overcome the shadows cast by these grievous events.”

Helping Solve Issues

Stevenson, referred to as “America’s Mandela” by South Africa’s Desmond Tutu – who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his opposition to apartheid – is a tireless advocate for addressing the past in order to change the future of criminal justice.

But he’s also living in the present, helping America deal with big issues involving race, including those that are impacting communities across Wisconsin.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama appointed Stevenson to a task force on 21st Century policing, commissioned to address concern and protest after police arrests in New York and Missouri resulted in the deaths of two young African-American men.

That task force’s report was released in March, the same month that a Madison police officer shot and killed a 19-year-old black man, Tony Robinson, and preceding waves of recent protests and riots in Baltimore after a young black man died in police custody.

In short, Stevenson is entrenched in helping America address important issues about poverty, race, and a criminal justice system that does not always create justice for all. And he says Wisconsin lawyers are powerful allies in solving issues of the day.

“Lawyers can be proactive in eliminating and challenging bias,” he said. “We should be pushing to diversity the bar and the bench, and we have to educate people about our history, and how it has shaped the challenges that are real in communities of color.”

Bryan Stevenson’s Annual Meeting and Conference address is made possible through a grant from the Wisconsin Law Foundation, the charitable arm of the State Bar of Wisconsin

Originally Posted on State Bar of Wisconsin


Imprisoned at 14, Illinois inmate gets resentenced to life without parole

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down life without parole for child convicts, Adolfo Davis hoped for a second chance

by Ranjani Chakraborty   @ranjchak

After almost a quarter century in prison, Adolfo Davis will not go free.

In a blistering ruling Monday, Cook County Judge Angela Petrone resentenced the Illinois prisoner to natural life in prison without chance of parole. He was first ordered to life in prison without parole when he was just 14 years old and convicted as an accomplice to a gang-related double murder in 1990. It was never proven that he fired his gun.

His landmark case has been closely watched all over the country, putting the issue of juvenile justice reform in the spotlight. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court found that sentencing children to life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment, allowing states to decide whether to apply that retroactively to cases like Davis’. 

In 2014, after taking a look at Davis’ case, the Illinois Supreme Court granted new sentencing hearings for dozens of inmates serving life without parole for crimes committed as a child. The Illinois ruling meant that after more than two decades of thinking he would die in prison, Davis would get a second chance.

Now 38, Davis wiped his tears at the end of Monday's emotional hearing. Judge Petrone criticized defense witnesses, asserting that they were inherently biased toward Davis and overlooked the facts of the case. Petrone came down hard, saying a young Davis had planned to kill. Through the booing from the gallery, she announced her decision – Davis’ life sentence was reaffirmed.

“This sentence is necessary to deter others. It is necessary to protect the public from harm,” Petrone said. “The defendant’s acts showed an aggression and callous disregard for human life far beyond his tender age of 14.”

Petrone acknowledged that Davis has done some good while in prison, but said his “commendable acts towards self-improvement" weren’t sufficient to change his sentence. Davis at first stuck to his gang in prison, which eventually landed him around four and a half years in isolation for misconduct. But he says he broke off ties with the group more than a decade ago and is a changed man.

Petrone finished by stating Davis’ “attacks on other people, threats to kill and hurt those around him, and his continuous involvement in gang activity, all show that the prior sentence was the correct one.”

Davis’ lawyers can appeal the decision within 30 days.  

Juvenile life without parole is banned in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world except three: Somalia, South Sudan and the United States. In Somalia and South Sudan, there are no known cases of people serving a life without parole sentence for a crime committed as a minor. In the U.S., there were around 2,500 as of 2008, according to a Human Rights Watch tally.

Davis was the youngest of the three members of Chicago’s Gangsters Disciples who went out to settle a score in October 1990, shooting dead two members of a rival gang. He was tried as an adult, convicted of double murder and sentenced, as the law required, to life without parole. Barely 5 feet tall and just over 100 pounds, Davis went off to prison.

But Davis’ story starts even earlier – with a childhood that was anything but easy.

“My destiny was written when I was born into a chaotic family,” Davis told America Tonight in 2013 when we visited him in Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison in Crest Hill, Illinois. “So being born into that, as many other kids get born into it every day, it's like life is already written for us.”

Davis' father was absent and his mother was a drug addict. His grandmother, who was also caring for a bedridden husband, a son with mental disabilities and other grandkids, became his primary caregiver.

“My grandmother, my heart,” Davis said. “She took care of me and everybody else, you know. But she couldn’t keep an eye on me a lot, or pay as much attention as I needed at the time. So it led me to the streets.”

Davis had his first brush with the law at the age of 9, when he says he was so hungry he attempted to snatch a bag of food from a little girl. His file also shows that a young Davis would bang his head against the wall until it bled, burn himself with cigarettes and wet the bed, Chicago Public Radio reported. He also suffered nightmares, severe insomnia and hallucinations. According to court documents, the juvenile court acknowledged that Davis had fallen through the cracks of the child welfare system.

Davis hoped the court would take details like this into account in his resentencing, along with signs of rehabilitation in prison. But after hearing the judge’s words Monday, he simply bowed his head. As a child in prison, his biggest fear was dying behind bars. Twenty-four years later, that fear remains.

“I don’t want this to be the last thing I see,” Davis said back in 2013. “It’s a whole beautiful world out there and me dying in here, it’s like a nightmare.”

Originally posted on Aljazeera America


Convicted teen killer denied break on 50-year-to-life prison term

Concluding that the juvenile justice system had failed to rehabilitate him, a state court panel has refused to overturn the 50-year-to-life prison term imposed on a convicted 15-year-old midstate killer.

Jacquez Brown

Jacquez Brown

The Superior Court rejected arguments by Jacquez Davon Brown that his conviction by a York County jury of first-degree murder was unjustified and that his prison sentence is too harsh.

Brown claimed he fired in self-defense while 19-year-old Anthony Wasilewski had him in a head lock during a July 2011 fight with on East Princess Street in York. The fight began when Wasilewski accused Brown of stealing his cell phone.

However, as Judge Paula Francisco Ott noted in the state court's opinion, two witnesses testified that Brown shot Wasilewski as Wasilewski was kneeling, and kept firing as he walked away from the stricken man. Wasilewski was shot three times. The fatal bullet struck Wasilewski in the lower back, and was fired from a distance of one to three feet, the judge wrote.

Ott concluded the evidence "shows that Brown was not in a head lock at the time he fired any shot at the victim...Brown was no longer under any threat of death or serious bodily injury when he fired the gun."

"He could have retreated safely, rather than pulling the trigger," the judge added.

Brown, who was 17 when he was convicted of first-degree murder in November 2013, was not eligible for an automatic life prison sentence because he was younger than 18 at the time of the slaying. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment to impose automatic sentences of life without parole on juvenile killers.

However, the law states that juvenile murderers must serve at last 35 years behind bars on first-degree homicide convictions, and judges do have the power to impose life prison terms if they deem the circumstances warrant such dire penalties.

In his appeal, Brown argued that he should have received a 35-year minimum prison term instead of the penalty county Judge Richard K. Renn imposed when he found Brown "has to be segregated from society for a significant period of time."

Ott cited Renn's conclusion that Brown had not reformed while in the juvenile justice system after being adjudicated on a simple assault charge at age 13 for shooting a person in the face with a BB gun.

"The commission of a first-degree murder so quickly after his first criminal episode does not bespeak a successful rehabilitation process," Ott wrote.

Source: PennLive

Big Win in Florida for Juveniles Serving Life

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) - Though the juvenile committed a murder in the same criminal episode as nonhomicide transgressions, it was unconstitutional to impose a life sentence on the latter crimes, the Florida Supreme Court ruled.

     The decision comes five years since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out life sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide offenses with the decision Graham v. Florida.
     Florida's 2nd, 3rd and 4th District Courts of Appeal have read Graham, however, as creating a homicide-case exception to this categorical rule, meaning that judges can sentence juveniles to life without parole for a nonhomicide offense if the juvenile also committed a homicide in the same criminal episode.
     In the case at hand, the 3rd District found that Torrence Lawton deserved a life sentence without parole for armed robbery and attempted murder, crimes he committed as a juvenile, because Lawton also committed a homicide in the same criminal episode.
     The Florida Supreme Court reversed last week, finding "that Graham's categorical rule leaves no room for the homicide-case exception."
     Florida is one of several states undergoing a transformation in the courts to redefine sentencing laws for juveniles.
     Three years ago, Miller v. Alabama made it unconstitutional for courts to impose mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile murderers.Mi
     And just last month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the unconstitutionality of the life sentences applies retroactively to the juvenile offenders.
     Lawton will be resentenced for his conviction for attempted first-degree murder with a firearm and arm robbery with a firearm in conformance with the new legislation.
     The unsigned April 9 ruling concludes with a note of disapproval for the 2nd District's decisions in two other cases, and the 4th District's decision in another case, "to the extent those decisions recognize a homicide-case exception to Graham." 

Juvenile Justice in America: We Can Do Better | Cara H. Drinan

The juvenile court was invented in Illinois in 1899. Soon thereafter, recognizing that youthful offenders often had diminished culpability and unique potential for rehabilitation, every state in the Union created its own juvenile court system. Developed nations around the world emulated the American model of juvenile justice.

Today the United States is an international outlier in the severity of its juvenile sentencing practices. Until 2005, the United States was the only developed country that subjected children to the death penalty, and today we are the only nation that employs juvenile life without parole. The Pope, U.N. officials and human rights organizations have universally condemned the way the American criminal justice system treats children -- the most vulnerable members of society.

In recent years, there has been some improvement due to new (and overdue) Eighth Amendment rulings from the United States Supreme Court. In Graham v. Florida(2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012), the Supreme Court significantly curtailed the extent to which states may employ juvenile life without parole.

Since those decisions, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming have abolished the practice of juvenile life without parole, while other states have precluded the sentence for certain categories of juveniles. West Virginia's legislation in response to Graham and Miller rethinks juvenile sentencing altogether, and California has passed a law providing a new parole protocol for youth serving extreme sentences. The Supreme Court of Florida, considered to be among the most punitive of all states, recently decided a handful of juvenile sentencing cases and held in favor of the juvenile petitioner in each instance. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly determined that children are different in the eyes of the Constitution; brain science tells us that children are less culpable and more amenable to rehabilitation; and some states are enacting laws that properly reflect both realities.

But there is much work to be done. Take Terrence Graham, with whom I correspond on a regular basis, for example. In 2003, when he was sixteen, Terrence and three other teens attempted to rob a barbeque restaurant in Jacksonville. He entered the restaurant through an unlocked back door at closing time, fled when the manager started yelling at them and left with no money. A Florida judge sentenced Terrence to life without parole for his involvement in that crime. After the Supreme Court struck down that sentence in 2010, Mr. Graham received a re-sentencing hearing and a new sentence of 25 years. Because of his time served to date, he will be released in 12 years at the age of 40 if, as he says, he can "make it out."

Like many young inmates serving lengthy sentences, Mr. Graham does not have access to educational or vocational opportunities. Occasionally, if he is lucky, he can visit the prison library, but for the most part, he is left to pass the hours with fellow inmates in the recreation pavilion where even a chess game can be a risky undertaking if he catches his opponent on a bad day. Mr. Graham witnessed another inmate's rape during his first days in prison, and he recently watched another young inmate be killed. He has spent time in solitary confinement, a practice prohibited by the U.N.more than 20 years ago and opposed by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Mr. Graham lives among mostly older inmates, many of whom are serving life sentences and have "nothing to lose." Each day is a quest to survive.

Spurred by neuroscience findings and the moral leadership of the United States Supreme Court, meaningful juvenile justice reform is underway. And yet, in some states, children as young as six can be transferred out of the juvenile justice system and into adult court without any judicial oversight. Once there, they may be sentenced without any regard for their youth and its mitigating attributes. Conditions of confinement for youthful inmates can be horrific. An ongoing lawsuit in Michiganalleges that youth inmates, housed with adults, have routinely been raped while prison officials turned a blind eye.

These are not practices befitting the nation that invented the juvenile court a little more than a century ago. If we are to remain the land of the free we can and we must do better by our children.

Life in Prison Without Parole Still Allowed for Convicted Juveniles in Iowa

The Iowa legislature has just passed a bill that would allow Iowa courts to continue sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

This is despite recent U.S. and state supreme court rulings that have challenged that.

Members with Iowa's ACLU have said they have several problems with the bill. They have also said they're considering legal action if a future court ruling does not address the issue.

Supporters of the bill have stated that they feel it offers uniformity.

The bill now heads to the desk of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

Change rules on sentencing of juveniles

POSTED: Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 1:08 AM

By Nikki Grant and Robert Saleem Holbrook

In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has started to limit the ways and circumstances under which states can impose the harshest punishments on children caught up in the criminal justice system.

In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons, the Supreme Court held that sentencing people under 18 to the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment. In 2010, in Graham v. Florida, the court decided that children could be sentenced to life without parole only for homicide offenses; and in 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the court said children could not receive life without parole for any crime as a mandatory sentence.

There were almost 2,500 people sentenced as juveniles to life without parole before Miller was decided. More than 500 of these people were sentenced in Pennsylvania, more than in any other state.

Much of the rhetoric around children sentenced to die in prison focuses on their brain development; this science tends to show that children, still growing, are less culpable for their actions. The Supreme Court has affirmed a fact everyone knows: Young people change. But do people stop growing and learning and changing after making the transition from childhood to adulthood? Of course not.

When someone takes a life, one life ends and others are changed forever. A family and community lose a member, and if the responsible party is given a life-without-parole sentence, another family and community lose someone who will now be trapped in this terrible mistake and this tragic moment.

When people are condemned to either the death penalty or life without parole, the state is declaring that these people are irredeemable and disposable; not humans, but monsters.

The primary reason Pennsylvania has such a large number of juvenile lifers is the same reason it has the highest percentage (10 percent of the Pennsylvania prison population) of people sentenced to life without parole: Life without parole is a mandatory minimum sentence for first- and second-degree murder. Pennsylvania has more than 5,100 people sentenced to life without parole. These people will never receive a meaningful review of their sentences and, in the eyes of the state, will always be the same monster who was sentenced 10, 20, 30, or more years earlier.

Pennsylvania has also shown that it is unwilling to change the repressive policies that have brought us to this point. Forced to revise the sentencing statutes for juveniles convicted of murder in the wake of the Miller ruling, the legislature did the bare minimum, still allowing children to be sentenced to life without parole. Worse still, the scandal-ridden Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled, in Commonwealth v. Cunningham, that Miller is not retroactive, meaning that most of the 500 people serving this unconstitutional sentence have no recourse in the Pennsylvania courts.

Pennsylvania is not the only state going to extreme lengths to avoid merely taking a second look at the cases of people who were children when they were sentenced to life in prison. Louisiana is one of the four states that, like Pennsylvania, ruled Miller was not retroactive.

Louisiana had spent more than 30 years incarcerating George Toca, intending to keep him for life, until December. Then the Supreme Court decided to hear his case to determine whether Miller should be applied retroactively. Louisiana quickly gave Toca a deal, releasing him with "time served" to make the Supreme Court review moot. Interestingly, the court decided on March 23 to hear another case out of that state, Montgomery v. Louisiana, to decide on the retroactivity of Miller. Will Louisiana again opt to release one inmate rather than face the prospect of being responsible for resentencing thousands due to a landmark ruling?

We cannot change the injustice of our behemoth criminal justice system with litigation, legislation, and lawyers. Legislators and courts will continue to act politically and make the safe decision to treat people who harm others like monsters instead of looking at how to make our communities truly safe and strong.

In order to make a shift this radical in our statehouses and courts, we must come together and declare that human rights do not go away when people are incarcerated. Our communities cannot be safe without the resources to ensure that all have the things they need to sustain themselves.

We must change individually and collectively to realize a fuller understanding of our humanity.


Nikki Grant is the policy director of the Amistad Law Project, a West Philadelphia-based public-interest law center.

Robert Saleem Holbrook, a member of the Human Rights Coalition Advisory Board, is serving life without parole at State Correctional Institution - Greene, in Waynesburg, Pa. He was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in a fatal robbery.



Life sentence tossed for Arkansas man convicted as juvenile

April 9th, 201

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the life without parole prison sentence of a man who was a juvenile when he was convicted of attempted capital murder.

Under the ruling on the sentence given to Steven Wayne Bramlett, the case now goes back to a Jefferson County circuit court.

The 54-year-old Bramlett was 17 years old when he committed the crime. According to court records, prosecutors in Pope County filed a handful of charges against Bramlett including rape, kidnapping, robbery and attempted capital murder when he was arrested in 1979.

He pleaded guilty to attempted capital murder and the other charges were dropped. He was sentenced at the plea hearing to life in prison without parole.

A circuit court judge granted the state’s request for a summary judgement in 2012, denying Bramlett’s request to have his sentence converted to a term of years. According to court records, the circuit court asserted that Bramlett’s intent was to commit homicide and that the only thing that stopped the crime from reaching that level was “poor aim.”

“Should a person who intends to kill, acts upon that intention but is a poor shot be held less culpable than one who intends to kill, acts upon that intention but is a good shot?” the circuit court judge wrote in 2012.

The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with Bramlett’s argument that the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited life without parole sentences for juveniles who are convicted of a crime that is not a homicide. The opinion Thursday cited case law and definitions that require “the act to result in the death of a human being” to be defined as a homicide, regardless of intent.

“I think he had really strong case law in his corner,” said Laurent Sacharoff, a criminal law professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “Bramlett’s relief request remains the same, which is simply to be resentenced to a term of years, and depending on lower end of that sentence, he could be eligible for parole if that is granted.”

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office argued the case on behalf of the state, said she is still deciding whether to file a request for a re-hearing. If that request is not made or is not granted by the court, the case will be remanded back to circuit court for scheduling in 18 days.

Bramlett argued in his 2012 brief that Arkansas law allows parole eligibility for juveniles who have served 15 years of a non-life sentence. The law was changed in the 2013 legislative session, but was not applied retroactively.

Alabama Supreme Court: Life Without Parole For Juveniles, Is Not Retroactive

Posted: Fri 4:19 PM, Mar 27, 2015

By: Press Release: AL Attorney General Luther Strange


Montgomery, AL Attorney General Luther Strange announced that the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the life without parole sentence of Jimmy Williams Jr. The Court thus held that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles in capital cases is not retroactive.

Williams was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during a robbery. Williams was a juvenile when he committed this crime, and Alabama law at the time imposed a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

In 2012, after Williams was sentenced, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that life without parole sentences cannot be mandatory for juvenile offenders. Williams asked the Alabama Supreme Court to consider whether this decision entitled him to a new sentencing hearing. Today, the Alabama Supreme Court held that Miller “does not apply retroactively to cases that became final before its pronouncement.” The U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller decision relates only to the procedure used to sentence juvenile offenders. It did not prohibit states from imposing life without parole sentences on juveniles convicted of capital murder.

For these reasons, the Alabama Supreme Court denied Williams’ request for a new sentencing hearing, concluding that his sentence is constitutional. As a result of today’s decision, any juveniles who were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole before the U.S. Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama are not entitled to new sentencing hearings based on that decision.

The Attorney General’s Capital Litigation Division handled the case during the appeals process, and Solicitor General Andrew Brasher orally argued the case before the Alabama Supreme Court. Attorney General Strange commended Solicitor General Brasher and Assistant Attorney General Lauren Simpson for their successful work in this case. 


U.S. Looks Overseas for Human Rights Abuses and Ignores U.N. Report Criticizing Its Youth Detention Practices at Home

By Mishi Faruqee, Juvenile Justice Policy Strategist, ACLU at 12:21pm

Recently I visited a youth detention center in South Carolina. As I entered the facility, I saw a line of boys in jumpsuits march past with their arms behind their backs. The guard explained to me that they make the boys march to "help teach them discipline and structure."

Although I have visited numerous youth jails and prisons over the last 20 years, I am still amazed at how people who work in youth detention centers delude themselves. Young people, many who have experienced unspeakable trauma, come into these facilities in handcuffs and leg irons, are strip searched, and are put in cinder block cells – where sometimes they are physically restrained or locked in isolation for days as punishment – and somehow they are going to come out OK because they are trained to march in prison.

So it's not surprising that in a report released and presented this week to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Juan Mendez, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture, sharply criticized the U.S. model of youth detention where children are at "heightened risk of violence, abuse, and acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Even short periods of detention undermine a child's psychological and physical wellbeing. The report points out that children's healthy development requires developing emotional connections to caring adults, a requirement that most institutions consistently fail to meet.

The United State is the biggest jailer of children in the world. More than 67,000 unaccompanied children are locked up in our country's immigrant detention centers. An additional 60,000 children who come in conflict with the law are incarcerated in our juvenile jails or prisons – nearly two-thirds are held for non-violent offenses, including theft, drug possession, or skipping school. And thousands of more children are locked up in adult jails and prisons in the United States. Children of color are over-represented in detention, particularly among youth serving extreme sentences.

Notably, Mendez, who himself is a torture survivor, singles out the United States for being the only nation in the world that sentences children to die in prison. Although the Supreme Court recently banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles, there are approximately 2,500 individuals across the United States who are currently serving life-without-parole for crimes committed as children. In addition to life sentences, "sentences of extreme length have a disproportionate impact on children and cause physical and psychological harm that amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment."

About 40 percent of children are incarcerated in private facilities that are often euphemistically referred to as treatments centers, camps, or learning academies. The U.N. special rapporteur points out that these private institutions often avoid state oversight and regulation, which may lead to rampant abuse.

The report makes several key recommendations including eliminating juvenile life-without-parole sentences for children and the detention of immigrant children. There should be no use of restraints or solitary confinement under any circumstances. No children should be tried in adult court, and all children should be held in age-appropriate facilities.

In addition, because detention hampers the healthy development of children, the report recommends restricting detention to the shortest period of time possible and limiting it only to exceptional cases. In most cases, states should adopt non-custodial alternatives to detention. These community-based alternatives are not only better for children but cheaper and better for society as a whole.

Unfortunately, the U.S. delegation to the Human Rights Council failed to respond to Mr. Mendez report and preferred to highlight human rights concerns abroad. U.S. leadership on the international stage suffers when we decline to constructively engage and fully cooperate with international human rights bodies. As the U.S. seeks another term as member of the Human Rights Council, it should heed Mendez recommendations and live up to its commitments to uphold human rights at home and abroad.


Deal reached on parole for juvenile killers


  • By Matt Murphy
    State House News Service 

    Posted Jul. 15, 2014 @ 5:33 pm
    Updated Jul 15, 2014 at 5:36 PM 

    BOSTON -- House and Senate negotiators reached a deal Tuesday on sentencing reforms for juvenile murderers to establish a three-tiered system for parole eligibility after state and federal courts struck down life sentences without parole as unconstitutional.
    A six-member panel filed a compromise bill ( H 4307) on Tuesday afternoon that would make juveniles – aged 14 to 17 – convicted of first degree murder eligible for parole are serving 20 to 30 years of their life sentence in prison.
    In cases involving premeditation, juveniles would face 25 years to 30 years in prison before becoming parole eligible or a minimum of 30 years in murders with “extreme atrocity or cruelty.”
    “It reflects a compromise and the diversity of views in both bodies and I think it’s a reasonable place to be,” said Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat and Senate chair of the Judiciary Committee, who led negotiations for the Senate.
    The bill represents a blending of the approaches taken separately by the House and Senate, adopting Senate-backed sentencing guidelines for first degree murder and especially horrific slayings and incorporating the House’s preference for creating a separate category for premeditated murder.
    The conference committee elected not to include changes to the amount of time a convicted murderer would have to wait between parole hearings if they are denied early release, leaving the five-year waiting period untouched.
    “I think it’s the right outcome on the setback,” said Brownsberger, who originally proposed a 10-year waiting period before it was changed during debate in the Senate.
    The conference committee’s recommendations, which are not subject to amendment, will go first to the House.  Both branches have formal sessions scheduled for Wednesday
    “I expect it will be moved along quickly given all the things we need to do,” Brownsberger said.
    Rep. Christopher Markey, who led the House negotiating team, could not immediately be reached for comment.
    All six lawmakers on the conference committee signed off on the compromise. The committee also included Reps. Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham) and Bradford Hill (R-Ipswich) and Sens. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).
    Earlier in the session Senate Minority Tarr and Sen. Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat, filed legislation with 19 co-sponsors in the House and Senate seeking to set a mandatory prison period of 35 years served before a juvenile murderer could become parole eligible.
    The bill does not propose to make any sentencing changes for adults convicted of first or second degree murder.
    At the start of the year, there were 63 juveniles in the Massachusetts prison system serving life without parole.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down life sentences without parole for juvenile murders on the grounds that they violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
The state Supreme Judicial Court followed up that ruling on Christmas Eve 2013 with a decision that found life sentences for juvenile murderers in violation of the state’s constitutional prohibition on cruel or unusual punishment because there are neurological and psychological differences between juveniles and adults. The ruling overturned a 1996 statute that allowed juveniles 14 years or older charged with murder to be tried as an adult.
Following the court decisions, sentences in Massachusetts for juveniles convicted of murder defaulted to 15 years before becoming parole eligible.
Some activists and juvenile court judges, including the Coalition for Fair Sentencing of Youth, pushed for parole eligibility to remain at 15 years because of developmental differences between juvenile brains and adult brains and the potential for effective rehabilitation.

Teens Serving Life Without Parole: POV Documentary ‘15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story’

Originally posted July 23rd By JOHN DAVIS

We explore the practice of sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole in the U.S. More than 2,500 inmates in America’s prison system are serving life terms for crimes committed as juveniles. We’ll talk with the filmmaker behind the POV (Point of View) documentary “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story” which premieres August 4th on PBS. The film documents the story of one Tampa-area man charged with four back-to-back life sentences for his role in a string of robberies committed when he was 14 years old at the behest of his mother’s 24 year old crack dealer.

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Graham v. Florida finds that life sentences for juveniles for crimes other than murder are unconstitutional, which could make Kenneth eligible for early release. Through Kenneth’s story, we’ll explore whether society is served by sentencing juveniles to life in prison and other revelations about our justice system.


Nadine Pequeneza, Director/Producer of POV Documentary ‘15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story”

Program Schedule on WGCU-TV:

  1. Thursday, August 7, 03:00 pm on WGCU WORLD 
    TV 30.2 
    Cable 201
     - READ MORE
  2. Saturday, August 9, 12:00 pm on WGCU WORLD 
    TV 30.2 
    Cable 201
     - READ MORE
  3. Sunday, August 10, 03:00 am on WGCU HD 
    TV 30.1 
    Cable 3 / 440
     - READ MORE

Michigan Supreme Court: Not so fast on resentencing juvenile lifers

Originally posted July 8th 2014 by Paul Egan 

Michigan juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama do not have to get new sentencing hearings, the Michigan Supreme Court said in a 4-3 opinion. / Jason Karas/Detroit Free Press

Michigan juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama do not have to get new sentencing hearings, the Michigan Supreme Court said in a 4-3 opinion. / Jason Karas/Detroit Free Press

LANSING — A U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes mandatory life sentences without parole unconstitutional for juveniles should not be applied retroactively, a divided Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday in a ruling that brought joy to some families shattered by horrific crimes, but heartbreak to others.

Michigan juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama do not have to get new sentencing hearings, the court said in a 4-3 opinion.

The ruling is a defeat for more than 300 Michigan inmates serving mandatory life sentences without parole for murders committed when they were teenagers.

And it was a victory for Attorney General Bill Schuette, who argued that families who went through the sentencing hearings once should not be subjected to the same trauma a second time.

For survivors of Dave VanBogelen of Muskegon, who was bludgeoned to death by two teenagers in 1990, the ruling was an answered prayer.

“It was a brutal and heinous crime ... and they didn’t care,” said Amanda McGregor, 31, of Grand Haven, whose father’s two teenage killers are serving life without parole.

“The only time they cried was when they got life sentences. There wasn’t any remorse. They took my dad when I was 7 years old. My brother was 12. My mom had to raise us by herself. They don’t deserve to walk the same streets that my children and I do.”

McGregor’s father was 34 when two teenagers met him at a bar, lured him back to their Muskegon Heights apartment and then stabbed him to death after robbing him of $1,500 and his Ford Ranger pickup.

The 19-year-old stabbed him to death; his 16-year-old girlfriend hit him over the head with a bottle and helped clean up the mess.

The then-teen couple were sentencedin 1991.

McGregor’s brother, David VanBogelen, who carries his father’s name, said his family was not prepared to go through another sentencing.

“I’m glad it’s over,” VanBogelen said. “They took away from us something that can never be replaced. Their freedom is the least that they can give up for that. ... They don’t deserve another chance.”

But Amanda Jones of Grand Rapids, whose ex-husband Anthony Jones is serving a life sentence without parole for a 1979 Kalamazoo County killing committed when he was 17, said the decision is “heartbreaking.”

“He was not the actual shooter,” said Jones, who married Anthony Jones for a short time after he went to prison. “He’s been in prison for 35 years.”

Jones has changed and been rehabilitated during that time and “everyone deserves a second chance,” she said.

Though the ruling comes from the highest court in Michigan, it does not settle the question, since related legal fights continue at the federal level and a Michigan case is now before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Markman said the U.S. Supreme Court did not make sentences to life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles. It only made automatic life sentences unconstitutional for juveniles and required a different sentencing procedure to be followed to determine whether such a sentence is appropriate.

Because the change mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court is only procedural, and it doesn’t alter the range of possible sentences, the ruling should not be applied retroactively, said Markman, who was joined by Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. and Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano.

Justice Mary Beth Kelly wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Michael Cavanagh and Bridget McCormack.

Kelly said the U.S. Supreme Court did alter the range of sentences, because juveniles who could only get life without parole under the old system are now eligible for something less.

“Accordingly, we would hold that Miller applies retroactively under federal law,” Kelly wrote.

The decision broke mostly along partisan lines, with four GOP-nominated justices ruling against retroactivity. But Kelly, a former Wayne County Circuit Court judge who was nominated by Republicans, joined two Democratic nominees in writing the dissent.

One of the cases the justices considered was from 2006, when Raymond Carp, then 15, helped his half brother, Brandon Gorecki, then 22, murder May Ann McNeely, 43, in St. Clair County.

Gorecki delivered the fatal stab wounds, evidence showed. But Carp threw a mug at the woman and pulled the blinds closed while the killing happened.

Carp won’t get a new sentencing hearing based on Tuesday’s ruling.

Schuette, a Republican, said the ruling “should bring a measure of peace to the many families who struggled with the possibility of painful resentencing hearings for cases successfully prosecuted decades ago.”

Schuette has said many families of murder victims want the teenage killers locked up forever, as they were promised they would be at the time of sentencing.

For 67-year-old Patricia McLemore of Burton, whose son is serving a life sentence for a crime he committed when he was 16, the ruling was a devastating blow.

“I’m very disappointed,” McLemore said through tears. “(He) was just a child and really had no comprehension of (his) actions ... He just wants a second chance … and the fact that he didn’t actually commit the crime but was just an accessory — it shouldn’t be this way.”

Patrick McLemore and a 19-year-old broke into a Burton home to rob it. A 67-year-old man wound up beaten to death. Patrick said that when he entered the home, his co-defendant already had killed the man.

Still, Patrick got a life sentence in 2000 after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder. His co-defendant, Nathan Reid, got 37½ to 50 years after pleading no contest to a lesser murder charge.

McLemore said she understands the outrage and pain victims’ families experience when violent crimes happen. But she still doesn’t believe her son deserves to die in prison, saying he has matured a lot behind bars — earning a degree in small business management — and still has a lot to offer the world.

“I get both sides. That’s what’s so hard,” McLemore said. “I feel for them, and I feel for us.”

Patrick’s 22-year-old brother, Samuel Doyle II, said he believes his brother’s punishment is “just too harsh.”

“He was was definitely just a kid. He was a child. The human brain isn’t even developed (at 16),” Doyle said, noting Patrick “got a worse sentence than the actual murderer. Where’s the justice?”

Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan, which filed a brief in the case, said the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to settle the issue, since seven states have differed with Michigan in finding that the Miller case is retroactive.

A separate case, about whether such juveniles are entitled to parole hearings, is now before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Korobkin said.

The Michigan Catholic Conference expressed disappointment with the ruling.

“We call upon the Legislature to pass a measure that will allow for juveniles sentenced to a life term before the Miller decision to have the opportunity for a parole hearing at some point during their sentence,” the conference said in a news release.

“Our position is driven by the need to balance compassion and protection for victims with the opportunity for offenders to rehabilitate their lives, which should be the goal of the corrections system.”

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or


Despite SCOTUS Ban, 15 States Still Have Not Passed Laws Ending Mandatory Life Without Parole for Juveniles

Originally posted on June 25th 2014 by Steven Hsieh 

A juvenile offender mops the floor during his work program at Circleville Youth Center in Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

A juvenile offender mops the floor during his work program at Circleville Youth Center in Ohio. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Exactly two years after the US Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, the majority of states affected by the ruling have not passed laws banning the practice, according to a report by the Sentencing Project.

The Supreme Court ruled five-to-four in Miller v. Arizona that mandatory life without parole (LWOP) sentences for minors violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In her majority opinion, Justice Kagan cited research that found that “only a relatively small proportion of adolescents who experiment in risky or illegal activities develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior that persist into adulthood.”

Only thirteen of twenty-eight states that had locked up minors for life without a chance for release have passed laws to comply with the Court’s decision. Several of the states that amended their sentencing laws, however, set lengthy requirements that some juvenile advocates are still calling inhumane. For example, both Texas and Nebraska set new minimum sentences of forty years, practically guaranteeing that some juvenile offenders will spend the majority of their lives behind bars.

“It appears that many states are disregarding the spirit of the Court’s ruling. Of the states that have passed legislative responses to Miller, many replaced their laws with sentences that are as nearly as narrow-minded,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior analyst at the Sentencing Project, in a statement.

The Miller decision did not determine whether the estimated 2,000 prisoners already serving mandatory LWOP sentences would be eligible for re-sentencing. Ten of the twenty-eight affected states have addressed this issue, passing laws or issuing court decisions that apply Millerretroactively.

The Sentencing Project's report notes that states do not necessarily have to pass new legislation to comply with Miller, but 

States’ practices of sending children to die in prison puts the United States at odds with international standards. In fact, ours is the only nation in the world that sends minors to die in prison, and is one of few that refuses to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans the practice.

(CORRECTION, 6/26/2014): An earlier version of this post suggested that states must pass legislation to comply with Miller. In fact, some states have ended mandatory life without parole for juveniles through litigation. The headline and first paragraph of this post have been updated for clarification.


Where Do You Think That Rage Came From

Originally posted June 11th By Beth Schwartzapfel

Last week, the Massachusetts Parole Board announced that Frederick Christian might go home. He would be one of the first people to be released based on the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling, in Miller v. Alabama, finding mandatory life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.

Courtesy of the Joe Donovan Project

Courtesy of the Joe Donovan Project

Christian was 17 when he was involved in a drug robbery that ended with the shooting deaths of two men. Now he is 37. In prison, he got his GED, enrolled in violence prevention programs, and converted to Islam. The five-times-a-day prayers, he said, “taught me discipline.” He has maintained a steady job cleaning the prison, gone regularly to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and helped to grow vegetables for the homeless.

Across the country, some 2,500 people are serving life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. Some have already served 30 years or more. Yet it’s likely few of them will get out. Before he can be paroled, Christian still has to complete a behavior modification program and live for a year in a minimum security prison. And his hearing is one of only a handful like it around the country since Miller. The Supreme Court said that the young people’s capacity to mature and change entitle them to a second chance. But lower courts, legislatures, and parole boards have more incentive to maintain the status quo than to show mercy—to follow the letter of Millerbut not its spirit.

That’s because letting more prisoners like Christian go free requires a return to an idea that the country largely abandoned a generation ago: that criminals can be rehabilitated, and there is a limit to just retribution. As costs rise for the growing prison population, legislators from every corner of the political map are now calling for a softening of sentencing laws. But legislation about the future is one thing. Giving a second chance to people who have already been sentenced for doing terrible things is another.

Christian was convicted in 1998 of two counts of first-degree murder. At the time of his crime, he was a drug dealer. He and two friends planned to rob three other dealers. But one of his friends shot the other men, killing two and wounding the third. Christian says (and the evidence suggests) he had no idea his friend meant to shoot the dealers. He didn’t hurt anyone himself. Still, he was convicted under the felony murder rule, which says all participants in a crime that ends in someone’s death can be treated as equally culpable. His sentence was mandatory: life without parole.

In Miller, the Supreme Court said sentencing judges must have discretion to consider mercy for juveniles facing life sentences. Before imposing life without parole, a judge must consider factors that set teenage criminals apart from their adult counterparts: immaturity, susceptibility to peer pressure, limited control over their home environments, and difficulty evaluating risks or appreciating consequences.

Letting more prisoners go free requires a return to an idea that the country largely abandoned a generation ago: that criminals can be rehabilitated.

But the court left open the question of what to do with the juvenile lifers like Christian, now adults, who were sentenced before Miller. Several states, including LouisianaMinnesota, and Pennsylvania, which collectively house almost half of the nation’s juvenile lifers, have said Miller is not retroactive: It only applies to new cases.

Even in states in which courts are reviewing old cases in light of Miller, they’re often leaving the defendants in prison for life. This month in Iowa, a judge heard from 33-year-old Romeo Hardin, who was 15 when he shot 21-year-old Augustus Nance in a gang initiation rite. After considering what he called Hardin’s “pathetic” childhood, filled with violence and neglect, the judge again sentenced him to life without parole. The same judge resentenced another juvenile lifer, Christine Lockheart—who was convicted of first-degree murder after waiting in the car while her boyfriend robbed and stabbed a neighbor—to life with the possibility of parole. In Michigan, a judge recently resentenced one person sentenced to life without parole, for a murder and carjacking at 16, to the same penalty. He resentenced another man, who was 14 when he shot and robbed an elderly woman, to 40 to 60 years. “Some people—let me emphasize, some people—need a second chance,” the judge said.

In other states, including Massachusetts, these sentencing determinations are in the hands of parole boards. Often appointed by governors, board members can be exquisitely sensitive to reflecting badly on their bosses. The ghost of Willie Horton may forever haunt the Massachusetts board. More recently, the board got into trouble for granting parole to lifer Dominic Cinelli, who then shot and killed a police officer in a botched armed robbery in 2010. Gov. Deval Patrick forced five of the six sitting parole board members to resign the following year. Parole rates dropped precipitously after that.

In deciding whether to give an inmate like Christian a second chance, many parole boards consider the severity of his original crime, and the reasons for it, at least as heavily as whether, and how much, he has changed in the decades since. “The parole board always tries to figure out what motivated someone to commit a crime—why did they do it?” says Patricia Garin, a Boston criminal defense attorney who specializes in parole.

Before Christian’s hearing, the board heard from Joseph Donovan, whose case has garnered media attention as an example of harsh sentencing: At 17, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for throwing an ill-fated punch. Last month, he shuffled into his hearing, balding and thick around the middle at 38. “I was such a stupid kid,” he told the parole board of his teenage self.

As a lanky 17-year-old with a dark-haired pompadour, Donovan was out on a Friday night, looking for beer with some kids from his Cambridge, Massachusetts, neighborhood, when two exchange students brushed past him on the sidewalk. Donovan’s bluster and posturing—don’t you say excuse me?—quickly escalated when Donovan threw a punch so forceful that it broke his hand and knocked Yngve Raustein to the ground. While Donovan nursed his injured hand, his 15-year-old friend Shon McHugh pulled out a knife and, unprovoked, stabbed 21-year-old Raustein to death. Tried as a juvenile, McHugh served 10 years of a 20-year sentence. A third friend they were with, Alfredo Velez, testified against Donovan in exchange for a reduced sentence; he too served 10 years.  

But Donovan was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule. At Donovan’s hearing, the parole board asked him the obvious questions about his violent behavior. “Where does this punch come from?” asked one member. “Where do you think that rage came from the night that you punched the victim so hard that you broke your own hand?” asked another.  

“I wanted to project a tough guy image—to be the man,” Donovan told the board. “It’s a childish, stupid thing, to even have that thought.”

In the last 15 years, Donovan has dedicated himself to reading and artwork, and he has been involved in no violent incidents in prison. But the early part of his sentence was marked by fights and assaults resulting in a cumulative seven years in solitary confinement. At his hearing, he also had to explain this part of his record. “When I was first sent to [prison], I was scared and confused. I made a series of poor decisions. I always wound up in the hole,” he said. There in solitary confinement, “I realized I let other people dictate my actions. I let events spin out of control. I had to step up and take responsibility for my actions. Because, at the end of the day, they’re the only thing I can control in this life.”

Joe Donovan told the board precisely the kind of story that Miller is meant to account for: He said he went into prison an impulsive, self-centered kid and grew up to be a reflective, empathetic man. An adult. “The fact is, that night, now, who I was back then, is so far removed from who I am today,” Donovan said. “I can’t believe I ever did that.” The parole board has yet to make a decision about his case. He’s waiting to find out if he’ll ever escape his 17-year-old self.

Beth Schwartzapfel is a freelance journalist who covers the criminal justice system. Her work has appeared in Mother Jones, the American Prospect, and the Boston Review. Follow her on Twitter.


Parole of Brockton juvenile killer sets off debate

Originally posted Jun 10 2014 by Ed Donga

AP Photo/Elise AmendolaFrederick Christian speaks on his own behalf during a hearing before the state's parole board in Natick, Mass., Thursday, May 29, 2014.

AP Photo/Elise

AmendolaFrederick Christian speaks on his own behalf during a hearing before the state's parole board in Natick, Mass., Thursday, May 29, 2014.

Experts are unsure what impact the parole of Frederick Christian will have on other inmates sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

BROCKTON – Convicted killer Frederick Christian, 37, has moved one step closer to freedom, but experts are unsure what that means for the 62 other prisoners sentenced to life without parole before they reached adulthood.

Last Thursday, Christian was granted parole a week after he became one of the first prisoners sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile to appear before the Parole Board after the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year that the sentence was a cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles.

The ruling came after a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory life sentencing laws for minors.

Christian had received the life without parole sentence for his participation in a 1994 Brockton armed robbery that left two men dead and another wounded. Christian’s friend, Russell Horton, 18, was the shooter.

“It’s hard to say from this case what will happen in any of the other cases,” Naoka Carey, the executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice. “My sense is that every case is very, very different not just in the circumstances of the crime, but what that person has done since the crime.”

In Massachusetts, Christian and 62 other prisoners, including Joseph Donovan who had his parole hearing on the same day as Christian and is still awaiting a decision, were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Of those 63 prisoners, over 40 percent of them were sentenced to life without parole despite not being the individual to inflict the fatal blow, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

Now, those prisoners will all be eligible for parole after serving 15 years of their sentence.

“Before the court’s decision, we (Massachusetts) fell on a very extreme end of things,” Carey said.

Previously, minors charged with first degree murder were tried in adult court regardless of age, and age was not taken into account during sentencing because the sentence was mandatory, Carey said.

Now, Massachusetts, like other states, is seeking to move towards the middle.

“Everyone is sort of moving away from it because the U.S. Supreme Court has really questioned it,” Carey said. “I think the overall trend is definitely away from life without parole for individuals under 18.”

The reasoning behind the opposition to life sentences without parole for juveniles is that their brains are not yet full developed.

“They don’t have the same ability as adults do to respond to their emotions, control their behavior and weigh their own actions,” Carey said.

The juvenile years are also a time when the brain is changing dramatically, meaning that juveniles can often grow into an adult that is significantly different from themselves as a minor, Carey said.

However, not all individuals watching the issue agree with getting ridding of life without parole for minors or with Christian’s parole.

Last Thursday, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz blasted the Parole Board’s decision to grant Christian parole.

“We provided the trial transcripts to the parole board and crime scene photos,” Cruz said in a statement. "Those are the best evidence in this case and they do not support the Parole Board's findings or its decision to set this double murderer free.”

During the hearing, Carlos Araujo, the surviving victim from the attack, also expressed his wishes that Christian remain behind bars.

“In five months, he would have been 18, and then we wouldn’t be here; I ask that he never be let out,” Araujo said, according to parole board’s decision.

Some groups, such as the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers, believe states like Massachusetts have gone too far by eradicating life sentences without parole for juveniles as a sentencing option.

“There are certainly horrific cases that warrant that option,” said Liz Hare, the organization’s president. “They’ve taken the life. The person who is dead doesn’t get to come from before a parole board and be alive again.”

In Massachusetts, the number of prisoners granted parole while serving a life sentence has been on the rise in recent years.

In 2011, only 12 prisoners serving life sentences were granted parole. In 2012, the number jumped to 22, and in 2013, it jumped again to 27.

Of the 27 prisoners granted parole while serving life sentences in 2013, eight of them were sentenced as juveniles.

Edward Donga may be reached at


Hawaii On Track To End Life Sentences Without Parole For Minors

Seven states across the country have already outlawed life sentences for minors, and it looks like Hawaii might be next.

The bill, which is now at Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s (D) desk, would abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when the offender was younger than 18.

Introduced by state Reps. Karen Awana (D) and John Mizuno (D), the bill says that juveniles should have the opportunity for parole because they are “more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures ... they have limited control over their own environment, and they may lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings.”

Abercrombie is reviewing the fine print of the legislation with Attorney General David Louie. Abercrombie has until July 8 to sign or veto the bill.

Currently, Hawaii requires annual reevaluations of all prisoners eligible for parole; the juvenile sentencing bill would allow children convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to life, but they would subsequently be eligible for parole and reevaluation.

Recent studies have shown that adolescence -- which is defined as puberty up to the mid-20s -- is still a formative period in development and that youth are amenable and responsive to therapy. Furthermore, the juvenile sentencing bill notes that, when “neurological development occurs, the individual can become a contributing member of society.”

Opponents of life without parole for juveniles argue that, while adolescent behaviors mimic those that define antisocial personality disorder -- such as irritability, lying, truancy or failure to accept responsibility -- they are prevalent in adolescents only because those individuals are still developing mentally.

But Honolulu prosecutors say that it wouldn't be fair to draw lines separating offenders from others who were born just weeks earlier, and that the state already accommodates offenders who are younger than 22 years old with no prior convictions.

The United States is the only country in the world that imposes life sentences without parole on minors, a violation of Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that “neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age.” In 2009, Human Rights Watch calculated that there are more than 2,500 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.

As recently as 2005, minors under the age of 18 were allowed to be sentenced to death. The Supreme Court’s Roper v. Simmons decision made the U.S. the last Western country to abolish the death penalty for minors.