Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

June 27, 2012

Court ruling offers inmates rare chance at freedom

DETROIT — The Supreme Court ruling that banned states from imposing mandatory life sentences on juveniles offers an unexpected chance at freedom to more than 2,000 inmates who had almost no hope they would ever get out.

In more than two dozen states, lawyers can now ask for new sentences. And judges will have discretion to look beyond the crime at other factors such as a prisoner’s age at the time of the offense, the person’s background and perhaps evidence that an inmate has changed while incarcerated.

“The sentence may still be the same,” said Lawrence Wojcik, a Chicago lawyer who co-chairs the juvenile justice committee of the American Bar Association. “But even a sentence with a chance for parole gives hope.”

Virtually all of the sentences in question are for murder. When Henry Hill was an illiterate 16-year-old, he was linked to a killing at a park in Saginaw County and convicted of aiding and abetting murder.

Hill had a gun, but he was never accused of firing the fatal shot. Nonetheless, the sentence was automatic: life without parole. He’s spent the last 32 years in Michigan prisons.

“I was a 16-year-old with a mentality of a 9-year-old. I didn’t understand what life without parole even meant,” Hill, now 48, said Tuesday in a phone interview.

He heard about the Supreme Court decision while watching TV news in his cell.

“I got up hollering and rejoicing and praising God,” said Hill, who would like to renovate homes and be a mentor to children if he’s released. “The last three or four years, they always put young guys in with me.”

The ruling also alarmed families of crime victims. Jessica Cooper, prosecutor in Oakland County, Mich., said her office has been taking calls from “distressed” relatives.

“Now they’re going to start all over,” Cooper said. “It’s going to take years.”

The Michigan Corrections Department said 364 inmates are serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed before turning 18. The prisoners now range in age from 16 to 67.

In Monday’s 5-4 decision, the high court said life without parole for juveniles violates the Constitution’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment. More than 2,000 people are in U.S. prisons under such a sentence, according to facts agreed on by attorneys for both sides of the case.

It’s possible that some inmates will win immediate release.

Judges could also impose new sentences carrying a specific number of years and a parole review. Some inmates could still be kept locked up for life.

“Judges have options,” said Deborah LaBelle, a lawyer in Ann Arbor, Mich. “The Supreme Court said to look at juveniles individually: their age, family background, peer pressures, home environments.”

LaBelle said she took a phone call from 34-year-old inmate Kevin Boyd, who was 16 when his mother killed his father. Boyd had given her the keys to his father’s apartment, was aware of her threats and was convicted of murder.

After hearing of the court’s decision, Boyd told LaBelle that he slept “with hope on my pillow for the first time in 15 years.”

Back in 1996, Saulo Montalvo was a 16-year-old getaway driver in a fatal store robbery in Grand Rapids. He never stepped into the store but was convicted of murder and sent away for life.

“My mom and dad had gotten divorced, and I thought I had something to do with it,” he said of his teen years. “I placed this burden on myself and began to act out. I gravitated toward people who were into minor crimes, drinking and smoking marijuana, and sought their acceptance. ... I was so broken by what I had done.”

He said the victim’s family has long forgiven him. And if released, Montalvo said, he could “be a benefit to the society I left behind.”

The judge who sentenced him, Dennis Kolenda, didn’t like the punishment but had to follow the law.

“A community that’s got a soul has to recognize children are different, and we need to treat them as different,” said Kolenda, who is now retired. “Some are incredibly dangerous, but we never know with kids how they’re going to develop.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who supported the state’s life without parole law for juveniles, said crime victims won’t be forgotten during the next round of court hearings.

“Every case has its unique set of facts,” Schuette said. “We’re going to make sure the truth is accurate.”

1
Text Only
National and World
  • Denver has nation’s first county fair to allow pot competitions

    Marijuana joined roses and dahlias Friday in blue ribbon events at the nation’s first county fair to allow pot competitions.
    This weekend’s Denver County Fair includes a 21-and-over “Pot Pavilion” where winning entries for plants, bongs, edible treats and clothes made from hemp are on display.
    There’s no actual weed at the fairgrounds. Instead, fairgoers will see photos of the competing pot plants and marijuana-infused foods. A sign near the entry warns patrons not to consume pot at the fair.

    August 1, 2014

  • House GOP weighs tough new immigration bills

    August 1, 2014

  • Poll: Foreign policy no longer Obama strong point

    August 1, 2014

  • US employers add 209K jobs, rate rises to 6.2 pct.

    August 1, 2014

  • Thousands rally for coal

    The echo of people chanting, “Hey, hey, EPA, don’t take our jobs away” could be heard in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.
    The voices came from about 5,000 United Mine Workers of America (UMW) members and their families along with other unions such as the Boilermakers Union and the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International (IBEW) marching through the streets.

    August 1, 2014

  • West Africa Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths

    Security forces went house-to-house in Sierra Leone’s capital Thursday looking for Ebola patients and others exposed to the disease as the death toll from the worst recorded outbreak in history surpassed 700 in West Africa.
    U.S. health officials urged Americans not to travel to the three countries hit by the medical crisis:  Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 31, 2014

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

Local News
AP Video
Congress Approves Iron Dome Funding Raw: House OKs Bill for Border Crisis Funds Rare Whale Fossil Pulled From Calif. Backyard Denver Celebrates Pot at the County Fair Escaping Email: Inspired Vision or Pipe Dream? Obama Calls on Hamas to Release Israeli Soldier Hispanic Caucus Slams GOP for Border Bill Shifts Obama: GOP Not Even Trying to Solve Immigration Emory Prepares to Treat American Ebola Cases US Employers Add 209K Jobs, Rate 6.2 Pct House GOP Optimistic About New Border Bill Four Rescued From Crashed Plane Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Russell Simmons, LL Cool J Visit Youth at Jail Raw: Obama Gets Hug From Special Olympian US, UN Announce Deal on Gaza Cease-Fire Despite Moratorium, Detroit Water Worries Remain
Sister Newspapers' News