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Alle-Kiski's juvenile lifers hope for possibility of parole

| Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 1:32 a.m.
A Westmoreland County Sheriff's deputy leads James Anthony Provitt, Grant Smith, and Bryan Lewis Chambers into District Justice Lawrence Franzi's office in Washington Township on September 28, 2001. William T. Larkin | Valley News Dispatch

Three local men who were convicted of murder when they were juveniles are among an estimated 470 Pennsylvania inmates who may get new sentencing hearings.

That's because their sentences did not allow a chance for parole.

Doreen M. White of Summit Township, Butler County, wants her son, Nicholas, released from prison after serving 14 years for killing his father when Nicholas was 17.

“It was life in prison, not even the possibility of parole,” Doreen White said. “That's cruel and unusual punishment for a juvenile.”

She is hopeful that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is responding to a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, will soon make possible resentencing for juvenile murderers serving life sentences.

Basically, the federal high court ruled that juveniles may be given life prison sentences, but they can't be denied a chance at parole.

White, now 31, was convicted of fatally beating and shooting his father, Robert Grant White, 43, in their home along Route 356 in 1998.

The father's body was found in a wooded area off Coal Hollow Road in Buffalo Township.

The U.S. Supreme Court left to the states just how to reconcile their laws.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held a hearing on Wednesday to review two such cases involving separate cases that occurred in the eastern part of the state.

Doreen White hopes this will lead to a new sentencing hearing for her son, whom she sees at least once a month.

“I love him with all my heart and support him,” she said, saying there was “much more to the case” than what was presented at trial.

“He is at SCI Pittsburgh, and he has been trying to better himself,” she said. “He wants to be an asset to society.”

White declined to speak about her dead husband because her son's appeal has been filed.

Other local cases

The state Supreme Court ruling could impact the fate of at least two other men convicted of homicide in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

They, too, received mandatory life sentences without the chance of parole for murder committed when they were 17.

James Allen “Jim Jim” Provitt, formerly of Detroit, and Brian Lewis Chambers of New Kensington were sentenced to life without parole for the savage beating and shooting death of a Kiski Township man in June 2001.

Provitt and Chambers were convicted of killing Lawrence “L.D.” Dunmire, 48, of Sugar Hollow Road, in 2001.

Police said Dunmire was lured to a Jackson Road trailer in Kiski Township. He was killed either late June 14, 2001, or early the next morning, and his body was found by his burned-out van along Moore Road, Bell.

A jury sentenced co-defendant Grant Smith to 20 to 40 years in prison and three women, who were in their 20s, received five-year sentences after testifying against the three youths.

Provitt, who was found guilty of first-degree murder and eight other charges, received a mandatory life sentence without a chance of parole.

Chambers was found guilty of second-degree murder and other charges. He also received a mandatory life sentence without parole.

Ruling eagerly awaited

Attorney Jerome L. Tierney, who represents Chambers, said it's unclear when the state Supreme Court will rule, but said the court has agreed to an expedited review. It might happen within a month, he said.“I believe the Supreme Court will establish guidelines,” he said. “But the General Assembly can try to undo what they do.”

Among other things, Tierney wants a psychological evaluation ordered for Chambers so that mitigating factors can surface — something that he claims wasn't allowed at Chambers' trial.

Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec has ordered a hearing for Nov. 6 to review the resentencing motion for Chambers.

The state Supreme Court has twice rejected appeals by Provitt, in 2006 and 2011.His current attorney, Adam Cogan, has filed another appeal regarding the no-parole issue.

The same holds true for White. A Butler County judge ruled earlier this month that the case is on hold until the state Supreme Court rules.

Some, such as Butler County District Attorney Richard A. Goldinger, think the state Supreme Court should refer the matter to the General Assembly to rewrite the law.

Other cases in region

In Westmoreland County, in addition to Provitt and Chambers, two other juvenile life sentences may hinge on the anticipated state Supreme Court ruling.John Veltri of Monessen was convicted of killing a woman when he was a juvenile in 1973.

Last year, a jury found Angela Marinucci guilty of first-degree murder in the February 2010 killing of Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old from Mt. Pleasant who was mentally challenged.

Marinucci was a juvenile when Daugherty was tortured and killed.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John W. Peck said the impact on those cases will depend on how far back the state court's ruling goes.“It all depends on how retroactive it is,” he said.

Allegheny County has numerous cases that could be impacted by a state court ruling.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr. doesn't have a position yet because he is “waiting for guidance from the courts and/or the Legislature,” a spokesman said.

Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi wasn't available for comment.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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