Cortez Davis: key juvenile lifer case challenges Michigan’s merciless re-sentencing statutes
Davis’ sentencing judge, the Hon. Vera Massey Jones, called JLWOP unconstitutional 18 years before the USSC did, in Miller v. Alabama
Hon. Shannon Walker to conduct re-sentencing Thurs. April 27, 2017 @9am in Frank Murphy Hall
By Diane Bukowski
April 26, 2017
DETROIT – Tomorrow, Detroiter Cortez Davis, whose first Judge Vera Massey Jones condemned juvenile life without parole as unconstitutional in 1994, 18 years before the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in Miller v. Alabama, faces re-sentencing before Judge Shannon Walker in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice at 9 a.m.
Will Judge Walker, just elected in 2014, pay heed to words of her elder, Judge Massey Jones, just retired, who said in 2012:
“. . . .This court held [in 1994] that to sentence this defendant to natural life in prison was cruel and unusual punishment. . . .The U.S. Supreme Court has finally held in Miller v. Alabama that to sentence juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment. This court says ‘finally held’ because Mr. Cortez Davis has been in prison for 18 years without a parole hearing. . .Thus we have locked him behind bars for over 18 years as a juvenile who did not pull the trigger, who told the victim he held at gunpoint that everything will be alright, and who had the potential to be rehabilitated. We, the people of the State of Michigan, have treated this juvenile, now man, inhumanely.”
Cortez Davis, 16 when he went to prison after a horrendous childhood, is now asking Judge Walker, through his attorney Clinton Hubbell, to give him the sentence Judge Massey Jones originally called for. Hubbell contends every day of the 21 years he has served so far is now part of an unconstitutional sentence as declared by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Davis is asking for, “Reinstitution of the September 26, 1994 sentence for First-Degree Felony Murder of 10-40 years, with proper credit for time served of 21 years as opposed to a sentence of 25-40 years (min) – 60 years (max) pursuant to MCL 769.25a(4)(c), for the reason that MCL 769.25a(4)(c) is an unconstitutional ex post facto law as applied to Cortez; . . . . That Cortez be immediately released, or deemed immediately parole-eligible.”
It will take courage for Judge Walker to follow in her predecessor’s footprints, in a state and county which have vigorously fought U.S. Supreme Court decisions on juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) every inch of the way. Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers in the country, and Wayne County has the highest number in the state of Michigan.
Michigan legislators who enacted MCL 769.25a deliberately sabotaged the intent of Miller v. Alabama and the USSC’s successor opinion that Miller was retroactive in Montgomery v. Louisiana. They passed statutes inserting what they termed mandatory time limits for re-sentencing of juveniles.
Those time limits have been condemned by a host of retired Michigan legal luminaries, including former Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair, former Michigan Governor William Milliken, and numerous advocacy groups. O’Hair even called for federal courts to step in to rectify what he termed the gross injustice of re-sentencing juvenile lifers to maximums of 40 to 60 years, which he termed nothing more than more than renewed life sentences.
“There are many juvenile lifers that have already started trying to contribute to society while still incarcerated,” Cortez Davis said in an article published in VOD. “A few of them are housed at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, where Cortez Davis El, Jose Burgos, Keith Maxey of Wayne County and Dontez Tillman of Oakland County are members of the G.O.A.L.S. Program, where we share our stories with at risk youth that are brought in by various agencies.”
He also cited Burgos’ work counseling suicidal prisoners, and the work of others in Stiggy’s Dogs, which “with the help of these individuals, transforms battered, abandoned, and abused dogs into service dogs and pets for veterans living with PTSD and other traumatic brain injuries and elders that need companionship.
A Michigan Appeals Court ruled March 28 against Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Morrow’s re-sentencing of Zerious Meadows, a juvenile lifer who has been incarcerated for over 47 years, to 25-45 years. It claimed Morrow must sentence him to the maximum of 60 years. Meadows is now 63, and was sent to die in prison when he was 15, in 1972. With conditions of inadequate medical care and unhealthy food in the Michigan prison system, he may not survive that long.
In his article, Davis asked for the same thing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. demanded, that justice “roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
“Understand that the changes we’ve made didn’t start once the U.S. Supreme Court made the 2012 decision (Miller v. Alabama) nor once they made the 2016 decision (Montgomery v. Louisiana),” Davis said. “We saw the need for change long before the possibility of freedom existed for us. We want to contribute to society’s growth, not its destruction. We don’t want just anyone living next to our loved ones and we know society feels the same way about all that they love and vowed to protect. We no longer threaten the community. So instead of fearing our release, help us become successful upon release by advocating for the tools that are needed.”
The details of Davis’ individual case are spelled out in a “sentencing memorandum” submitted by Attorney Hubbell to Judge Walker, which cites his numerous accomplishments in prison, and says that his firm wants Davis to come work for it as a paralegal due to those accomplishments.
See full memorandum at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Sentencing-Memorandum-Cortez-Davis.pdf.
Some related stories (more cited within those stories):