Pennsylvania Supreme Court's juvenile sentence decision 'chaos,' legal experts say
Doreen White said she's not discouraged that her son Nicholas won't get out of prison anytime soon.
“I have to keep hope,” said White, 58, of Summit in Butler County. “I want my son to come home. I want him to be in the community and contribute to the community. I know he could be a worthwhile addition.”
Nicholas White was 17 when a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole for killing his father, Robert Grant White, 43, in 1998 in their home along Route 356.
Last year, the Supreme Court declared such sentences unconstitutional, saying they amount to cruel and unusual punishment. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week ruled, 4-3, that the opinion does not apply retroactively to cases such as White's that were final before June 2012.
The decision means White and more than 450 Pennsylvania inmates, including as many as 40 from Allegheny County, are not eligible for resentencing.
“I can't believe that it's fair — that if your sentence came down one day, you get nothing, and if it came down the next day, you get a new hearing,” said Marc Bookman, director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia.
“But there is a silver lining here, and that is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does have another round of review, and that is with the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Turtle Creek attorney David Chontos. He represents Jeremy Melvin, 26, of McKeesport, who was 16 in 2005 when a Mercer County judge sentenced him to life without parole for killing a counselor at George Junior Republic, a private residential juvenile treatment center.
Several legal experts said the case likely is bound for the Supreme Court, because Iowa, Mississippi and Illinois deemed the high court's ruling retroactive, although Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and Florida have said it is not.
“It's chaos,” said Westmoreland County attorney Jerome McTierney, who represents Bryan Lewis Chambers, a New Kensington man sentenced in 2001 to life without parole when he was 17 for the murder of a Kiski Township man. “Everybody is in absolute shock at this decision. It creates a major cloud over everyone involved.”
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Sting highlights demand for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon
- 2nd lawsuit filed against Gov. Wolf seeking reinstatement of open records director
- Goodell defends league, dodges difficult questions
- Police say couple in Oakland murder-suicide had ‘troubled’ relationship
- Week before sentencing, Ferrante seeks acquittal or new trial
- Charge against ex-Steeler dropped after community service
- Beaver County man arrested in 24-year-old Clinton County cold case
- New CEO eager to revitalize Pittsburgh International Airport
- Propel Braddock school bans backpacks, to add metal detectors
- Mt. Lebanon High School to sell its planetarium equipment
- Pa. Turnpike claims software fraud, wants $45M