ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The family of a St. Louis man sentenced to life in prison says a loophole in state law is keeping him behind bars.
Paige Spears is a habitual felon sentenced to life in prison, but by all accounts he's been a model inmate.
Spears is eligible for parole, but the question is when due to Missouri's shifting definition of a "life sentence".
“Paige was convicted of armed robbery in 1988 and was sentenced to a life sentence and several more years,” said Donte Epps-Bey
Due to a clerical error Spears was sentenced to 1,001 years for an armed robbery.
“No one was hurt in the commission of this crime,” said Epps-Bey.
So it may surprise you that so many people want the same thing.
“He truly has reformed and changed his life,” said Epps-Bey. “He’s a role model in the prison. The warden said he doesn’t belong in there. If the warden says you don’t belong in prison then why are you still in there? Because the justice system has failed us!”
At the time of his conviction, Missouri law required inmates to serve 50 years behind bars before they were eligible for parole.
In 1994 the legislature changed the law to 30 years, but they didn’t make the law retroactive.
“He is the only person within the whole state of Missouri that’s under that law,” said attorney Herman Jimerson.
Since 2019, Spears has had two court dates to consider a Writ of Habeas Corpus to reconsider his sentence but neither actually took place.
“The first one was cancelled because the prison didn’t bring him, and we don’t know why,” said Jimerson.
5 On Your Side reached out to St. Louis Co. prosecutor Wesley Bell who provided the following statement:
“Though Mr. Spears committed serious crimes decades ago, the multiple life sentences he received is disproportionate to his crimes. Since his conviction for robbery in 1988, a robbery where no one was injured, Mr. Spears has completed every educational and rehabilitative program offered by the Missouri Department of Corrections. He teaches younger inmates. He has a family that has supported him and is committed to continuing to do so. Moreover, in 1994, the Missouri Legislature changed the parole law for the life imprisonment of someone like Mr. Spears. With this change, anyone convicted of the same crime as Mr. Spears after 1994 would be released from prison by now.”
“Our office has no authority at this point in the justice process to effectuate the release of Mr. Spears. However, we believe Mr. Spears provides an example of someone who can be rehabilitated and deserves a second chance. His release would be a benefit to our community as opposed to a threat. He has paid his debt to society, yet remains incarcerated as a result of a law since repealed. Under these circumstances, Mr. Spears should be released.”
“For an office to say it’s beyond their hands nothing kneaded unfairly is beyond their hands,” said Jimerson. “They can in fact do something about this.”
“He don’t belong in prison,” said Epps-Bey. “He belongs out here in society.”
“Free Paige Spears,” said Jimerson. “Free him because he doesn’t belong in jail!”
As it stands Spears won't be eligible for parole for at least six more years unless the legislature makes the 1994 definition of a life sentence retroactive or Gov. Parson gives him a pardon.