The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a man convicted of murder as a teenager and sentenced to life in prison deserves a resentencing because of his age when he committed the crime.
Supreme Court judges in their 5-1 ruling cited the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case against mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers without opportunity for parole. They ruled Jason Carr's sentencing violates his rights against cruel and unusual punishment.
Carr, now 50, was convicted in 1983 of killing his brother, stepmother and stepsister when he was 16 years old. He received three sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole for 50 years. At the time, the offense could either be punished with that sentence or the death penalty, and prosecutors didn't ask for capital punishment.
"He was sentenced without the jury or the judge considering the mitigating factors of his youth, the attendant characteristics of youth, the circumstances of the offense, or his potential for rehabilitation," judges wrote. "Because Mr. Carr's sentence was imposed without any consideration of his youth, his sentence violates the Eighth Amendment."
According to the ruling, Carr now gets a resentencing and his "youth, maturity" and other factors must be considered in weighing whether life without possibility of parole for 50 years is fair. If it's not, the court must vacate his guilty conviction and instead find him guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a minimum 10 years in prison.
The state's high court also on Tuesday ruled it's OK in some cases for juveniles convicted of multiple crimes to serve consecutive sentences that effectively amount to life in prison.
Judges ruled 4-3 against 35-year-old Timothy Willbanks, who after a carjacking and robbery he committed when he was 17 years old was convicted of kidnapping, assault, robbery and other charges. He faced consecutive prison terms including life and 300 years behind bars for the different convictions. He'll be eligible for parole when he's 85 years old.
Willbanks argued the consecutive sentences in effect mean he faces life in prison without a chance at parole and challenged Missouri's laws requiring prisoners to serve a percentage of their total sentence before they're eligible for parole as unconstitutional. His case centers on a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case, which ended life sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder.
While three judges in a dissenting opinion said Willbanks had no meaningful opportunity for parole, the majority kept with the state's status quo on juvenile sentencing because the U.S. Supreme Court ruling didn't address the consequences of multiple sentences.
Missouri judges also ruled against similar arguments from 24-year-old Ledale Nathan, who after a resentencing was given a life sentence for second-degree murder and other consecutive sentences for convictions related to a home invasion when he was 16 years old.
The public defender for Carr and Willbanks and Attorney General Josh Hawley's office said they're still reviewing the ruling. An attorney for Nathan didn't immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment Tuesday.