LOCKED UP FOR LIFE

A patch­work of jus­tice for ju­ve­nile lif­ers

West Hawaii Today - - Front Page - BY SHARON CO­HEN AND ADAM GELLER

DETROIT — Court­room 801 is nearly empty when guards bring in Bobby Hines in hand­cuffs.

More than 27 years ago, Hines stood be­fore a judge to an­swer for his role in killing a man over a friend’s drug debt. He was 15 then, just out of eighth grade. Another teen fired the shot that killed 21-yearold James War­ren. But Hines had said some­thing like, “Let him have it,” seal­ing his pun­ish­ment: life in prison with no chance for pa­role.

The judg­ment came dur­ing an era when many states, fear­ing teen “su­per­preda­tors,” en­acted laws to pu­n­ish ju­ve­nile crim­i­nals like adults, mak­ing the U.S. an in­ter­na­tional out­lier.

But five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned manda­tory life with­out pa­role for ju­ve­niles in mur­der cases. Last year, it made clear that ap­plies equally to more than 2,000 who al­ready were serv­ing the sen­tence.

Prison gates, though, don’t just swing open.

The Associated Press sur­veyed all 50 states and found that un­cer­tainty and op­po­si­tion stirred by the court’s rul­ings have re­sulted in an un­even patch­work, with the odds of re­lease or con­tin­ued im­pris­on­ment vary­ing widely.

Many vic­tims’ fam­i­lies are bat­tling to keep of­fend­ers in prison. “They al­ready had their chance, their days in court, their due process,” says Candy Cheatham, whose father was killed by 14-year-old Evan Miller, the Alabama inmate at the cen­ter of the 2012 rul­ing. “To bring this up and make the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies re­live this, that’s be­ing cruel and un­usual.”

Hines, though, is in a county whose pros­e­cu­tor has shown open­ness to parol­ing some ju­ve­nile lif­ers. Now 43, he bows his head when the mur­dered man’s sis­ter, Va­len­cia War­ren Gibbs, stands to ad­dress the judge.

“I want him to be out,” she says. “I want him to give him­self a chance that he didn’t give him­self … that day.”

The Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion last year was the fourth to find the harsh­est pun­ish­ments are un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally cruel and un­usual when im­posed on teens. Jus­tices cited re­search show­ing ado­les­cents’ brains are still de­vel­op­ing, mak­ing them sus­cep­ti­ble to peer pres­sure and like­lier to act reck­lessly with­out con­sid­er­ing con­se­quences.

Of­fi­cials in states with the most ju­ve­nile life cases long ar­gued the ban on manda­tory life with­out pa­role did not ap­ply retroac­tively. Now, the AP found, states are head­ing in de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Some have re­sen­tenced and re­leased th­ese in­mates. Oth­ers are push­ing back, deny­ing any real op­por­tu­nity for a re­duced term or pos­si­ble pa­role.

“It’s tak­ing far too long to get … judges and pros­e­cu­tors to un­der­stand that the man­dates of the Supreme Court are not op­tional,” says John O’Hair, who saw more than 90 ju­ve­niles sen­tenced to life when he was pros­e­cu­tor in Wayne County, Michi­gan, but has since crit­i­cized how some in his state are re­spond­ing.

Penn­syl­va­nia has re­sen­tenced more than 100 of its 517 ju­ve­nile lif­ers, and re­leased 58. At­tor­neys there talk about work­ing through all the cases in three years. Just two Penn­syl­va­nia in­mates have been re­sen­tenced to life with­out pa­role, which the na­tion’s high­est court said should be re­served for the rare of­fender who “ex­hibits such ir­re­triev­able de­prav­ity that re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is im­pos­si­ble.”

In Michi­gan, pros­e­cu­tors want new no-pa­role terms for some 236 of 363 ju­ve­nile lif­ers, prompt­ing law­suits. And most of the cases are on hold un­til Michi­gan’s Supreme Court de­cides whether judges or ju­ries should hear them.

“Th­ese are young Han­ni­bal Lecters,” says Sher­iff Michael Bouchard of Oak­land County, where of­fi­cials want no-pa­role sen­tences in 44 of 49 ju­ve­nilelifer cases.

Thir­teen other states have passed leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing life with­out pa­role for ju­ve­niles since 2012. In 2014, Hawaii law­mak­ers ap­proved a mea­sure that ex­cludes life with­out pa­role for those 17 and younger. Hawaii has no ju­ve­nile lif­ers.

While many states have taken steps to make ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers el­i­gi­ble for pa­role, of­fi­cials reg­u­larly deny re­lease. In Mis­souri, the pa­role board turned down 20 of 23 ju­ve­nile lif­ers for re­lease, says the MacArthur Jus­tice Cen­ter, which sued.

At Hines’ re­sen­tenc­ing in March, the judge weighed his case be­fore sen­tenc­ing him to 27 to 60 years, mak­ing him im­me­di­ately el­i­gi­ble for pa­role. He’s due to be re­leased Sept. 12.

“I know what I’m not go­ing to do,” he says, “and that’s get in trou­ble.”

AP PHOTO/

Va­len­cia War­ren Gibbs, ad­dresses the court dur­ing a March hear­ing for her brother’s killer, Bobby Hines, at the Frank Mur­phy Hall of Jus­tice in Detroit. Gibbs and fam­ily have for­given Hines for the mur­der of her brother, James War­ren. IN­SET: A school iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card for Bobby Hines, 15 at the time of War­ren’s mur­der.

Hines

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