Man receives life for killing at 16
VAN BUREN — A Crawford County judge sentenced Tony Ray on Wednesday to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years for the 1997 murder he committed when he was 16 years old.
In sentencing Ray, now 36, Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell pronounced Act 539 of 2017 constitutional and retroactive to other youthful offenders who were sentenced to life without parole for capital-murder convictions.
Complicating Ray’s case is that he also was convicted Sept. 20, 1999, of theft and was sentenced to 20 years on that charge to run consecutively to his murder sentence. Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune said when Ray’s murder sentence was vacated in June 2016, Arkansas Department of Correction officials began running the clock on his theft sentence.
In passing sentence on Ray, Cottrell granted a motion by McCune, who argued that the emergency clause of Act 539 of 2017, also called the Fair Sentencing of Minors Act, retroactively provided that juveniles sentenced to life without parole for capital-murder convictions would be eligible for parole after serving 30 years of their sentences.
The act also provides that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder would be eligible for parole after serving 20 years.
“[T]hat this act is immediately necessary in order to make those persons eligible for parole in order to be in compliance with Montgomery v. Louisiana,” part of the emergency clause read.
Montgomery v. Louisiana, Cottrell said during the hearing, was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that said sentencing hearings were not necessary for cases that fell under its Miller v. Alabama decision.
In Miller v. Alabama in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to sentence youthful offenders to prison for life without the chance of obtaining parole.
Ray’s attorney Kent McLemore of Fayetteville argued that his client should get a sentencing hearing in order to comply with Miller v. Alabama.
According to Miller v. Alabama, juries should consider aggravating and mitigating factors before handing down a sentence, he argued in a court brief. He also argued that Ray should be sentenced under the law as it existed at the time of his conviction, which would be a prison term of 10 to 40 years or life, not just life.
McLemore also argued that Act 539 applied only to youthful offenders who were sentenced on capital-murder charges since passage of the act and that it was not retroactive.
But Cottrell said he placed weight on the Montgomery v. Louisiana ruling that said legislatures need not hold sentencing hearings to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama.
Montgomery v. Louisiana supported Act 539, he said. The clarity of the case, he said, made him confident the act was constitutional.
He said he thought of putting off a ruling on Ray’s case and letting the Arkansas Supreme Court rule on Act 539’s constitutionality. But he said he was confident in the Montgomery v. Louisiana decision.
Ray and Michael Hinkston, who was 20 in 1997, were accused of breaking into Lisa Gail Lewis’ home in Van Buren, waiting all afternoon for her to return home and then shooting her to death with a shotgun. She was shot in the neck, the right hand and stomach.
In a statement he gave police after his arrest, Ray said he shot Lewis once with one shotgun, which then jammed. He used another shotgun to fire two more times at Lewis, reloading after each shot, as she pleaded for her life and recited the Lord’s Prayer.