In­mates locked up for life as teens seek re­lief in Vir­ginia

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY ALANNA DURKIN RICHER

RICH­MOND | Fights are be­ing waged in courts across Vir­ginia about whether in­mates serv­ing life-with­out-pa­role sen­tences for crimes they com­mit­ted as ju­ve­niles de­serve a chance for re­lease in light of re­cent Supreme Court rul­ings.

The high court in 2012 barred states from im­pos­ing manda­tory life-with­out­pa­role sen­tences on any­one un­der 18 con­victed of mur­der. In Jan­uary 2016, the jus­tices made that rul­ing retroac­tive, say­ing the more than 2,000 of­fend­ers al­ready serv­ing such sen­tences must be given the chance “to show their crime did not re­flect ir­repara­ble cor­rup­tion” and, if it did not, they should have some hope for free­dom.

But a 50-state ex­am­i­na­tion by The Associated Press found that for those who have re­ceived these now-il­le­gal life terms, the rul­ings’ prom­ise of re­sen­tenc­ing and a chance at even­tual re­lease so far has been halt­ing, in­con­sis­tent and of­ten elu­sive.

The AP spent months re­view­ing how coun­ties and states are wrestling with re-ex­am­in­ing ju­ve­nile life with­out pa­role. While some have re­sen­tenced and re­leased ju­ve­nile lifers locked up for years, oth­ers have re­sisted tak­ing ac­tion as bat­tles con­tinue in leg­is­la­tures and courts.

Here’s a guide to the sit­u­a­tion in Vir­ginia:

As of Fe­bru­ary, 51 in­mates were serv­ing life-with­out-pa­role sen­tences in state prisons for crimes com­mit­ted be­fore age 18, ac­cord­ing to the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions. Twelve of those were con­victed of cap­i­tal mur­der, 27 of homi­cide, nine of ab­duc­tion, two of rape/sex­ual as­sault, and one of rob­bery, the depart­ment says.

Peo­ple con­victed of cap­i­tal mur­der for crimes com­mit­ted as adults can be sen­tenced to death, but Vir­ginia law says that for ju­ve­niles the pun­ish­ment “shall be” im­pris­on­ment for life. Vir­ginia abol­ished pa­role for peo­ple who com­mit­ted their crimes af­ter 1995, and cap­i­tal mur­der of­fend­ers aren’t el­i­gi­ble for “geri­atric re­lease,” which makes older in­mates el­i­gi­ble for free­dom.

At­tor­neys of cap­i­tal mur­der of­fend­ers ar­gue that the sen­tences are now clearly un­con­sti­tu­tional in light of the Supreme Court rul­ings.

But the Vir­ginia Supreme Court ruled in Fe­bru­ary that such sen­tences can’t be con­sid­ered manda­tory be­cause judges can give in­mates less than life by sus­pend­ing all or part of a sen­tence rec­om­mended by a jury or plea agree­ment.

That de­ci­sion came in the case of Donte La­mar Jones, who was 17 when he fa­tally shot a con­ve­nience store clerk dur­ing a rob­bery. Jones’ at­tor­neys have ap­pealed to the Supreme Court, which has yet to de­cide whether it will weigh in.

While Vir­ginia’s high­est court has blocked Jones’ path to a new sen­tence, oth­ers have had suc­cess chal­leng­ing their pun­ish­ments in fed­eral courts.

Be­fore the most re­cent rul­ing in Jones’ case, a fed­eral judge or­dered a new sen­tenc­ing hear­ing for Azeem Shakur Ma­jeed, who was con­victed of cap­i­tal mur­der and re­ceived life in 1997 for a killing com­mit­ted at 17. Ma­jeed, who changed his name from Lorenzo McClean, was re­sen­tenced in May and is ex­pected to be re­leased in three to four years, at­tor­ney Emily Munn said.

Another man con­victed of cap­i­tal mur­der as a teen — Randy Ross — was re­cently re­sen­tenced to 99 years.

A dif­fer­ent fed­eral judge re­cently ruled that con­victed sniper Lee Malvo is en­ti­tled to new sen­tenc­ing hear­ings in Vir­ginia. Malvo was handed two life sen­tences in 2004 af­ter a jury con­victed him of two counts of cap­i­tal mur­der. He later struck plea bargains in Spot­syl­va­nia County and Mary­land in which he agreed to ac­cept ad­di­tional life sen­tences with­out pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role.

District Judge Ray­mond Jack­son said it doesn’t mat­ter whether Malvo’s sen­tence was manda­tory or dis­cre­tionary be­cause the Supreme Court meant for all ju­ve­niles fac­ing life in prison to be en­ti­tled to a hear­ing to de­ter­mine whether they are “ir­repara­bly cor­rupted.” Vir­ginia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral is ap­peal­ing that de­ci­sion.


Lee Boyd Malvo was one of the D.C. snipers who ter­ror­ized the Wash­ing­ton area in 2002. He was 17 and pleaded guilty to mur­der charges in Vir­ginia and Mary­land. He re­ceived life with­out pa­role, but a Vir­ginia judge re­cently ruled the term un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Donte La­mar Jones was 17 years old when he fa­tally shot a con­ve­nience store clerk dur­ing a rob­bery and re­ceived a life in prison sen­tence.

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