Worthy seeks renewed LWOP for 40% in Wayne County, where 98% of juvenile lifers are Black, under likely unconstitutional state statute
“Lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children,” — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
U.S. the only country in the world to sentence children to die in prison
“They created new laws to resentence a JLWOP’er to a term that may be equal to their natural life or close to the end of life.”– 41-yr. juvenile lifer
U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara to hear motion for an injunction to stop prosecutors ,Thurs. July 28, 10:30 a.m., Ann Arbor
By Diane Bukowski
July 26, 2016
DETROIT – The State of Michigan and Wayne County in particular are battling to keep the largest possible number of juvenile lifers in prison until they die, in flagrant violation of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016). The high court found juvenile life without parole for over 2,500 prisoners in the U.S. to be unconstitutional, “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The U.S. is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison.
“Although Miller did not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to impose life without parole on a juvenile, the Court explained that a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children, those whose crimes reflect ‘irreparable corruption,’” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the Montgomery decision.
Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers in the nation, and was one of only four states, in addition to Louisiana, New York, and Pennsylvania, to hold out until the Montgomery ruling, claiming that Miller was not retroactive.
U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara additionally ruled in Hill v. Snyder in 2013 that ALL of the state’s juvenile lifers are eligible for parole after serving 10 years, and was essentially upheld by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals May 11.
On Thursday, July 28 at 10:30 a.m., he will hear arguments on a motion for an injunction to stop Michigan’s county prosecutors from going forward with current resentencing schemes under questionably constitutional state statutes passed in 2014. The hearing will be held at the Federal Building in Ann Arbor, 200 E. Liberty Street, Room 628.
“To date, prosecutors have sought to impose life-without-parole sentences under M.C.L. § 769.25a for the vast majority, instead of what the Supreme Court has unequivocally held must be only the “rarest” and “uncommon” youth for whom such a sentence would be constitutional,” Attorney Deborah LaBelle wrote in the motion.
“This prosecutorial misconduct demonstrates why this Court should grant Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. . . .M.C.L. § 769.25a subjects Plaintiffs to ongoing unconstitutional punishment. Absent a preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs—who are still serving unconstitutional mandatory life sentences without a meaningful opportunity for release—will continue to face cruel and unusual punishment from state officials who are intent on thumbing their nose at the Supreme Court, doing everything in their power to delay the implementation of a fair process that would provide Plaintiffs and similarly situated individuals a meaningful opportunity for release, and seeking unconstitutional life-without-parole sentences for hundreds of youth for whom such a sentence would be unconstitutional. The Court should therefore enjoin Defendants from proceeding with these life-without-parole resentencings pending a final determination as to the constitutionality of the statute.”
LaBelle notes in her motion particularly egregious conduct by Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
“In fact, the Oakland County prosecutor explicitly asserted in her motion seeking life without parole for a named Hill Plaintiff, Kevin Boyd, that pursuant to M.C.L. § 769.25a she need not specify any grounds or basis for seeking a life-without- parole sentence and that a defendant is not even entitled to file a response prior to a hearing. Similarly, the prosecutor for Wayne County, in seeking life without parole for over 60 youth, set forth no individualized bases for seeking such a sentence in any of the cases.”
Miller requires that each juvenile lifer case be considered on an individual basis, and take into account numerous factors in that individual’s life. (See box.) Worthy’s chief of communications, Maria Miller, told VOD that the Prosecutor Worthy had looked at all the factors from the Miller case before recommending that 60 juvenile lifers die in prison. “This procedure was established by the Michigan Legislature by statute. Each defendant in all the categories will have a resentencing hearing and a judge will make the decision regarding the sentence,” Miller said.
Judge Corbett O’Meara earlier granted an immediate temporary restraining order (TRO) against state prosecutors. Michigan appealed, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Judge Corbett O’Meara did not have the power to issue a TRO in this situation but could move forward with proceedings on the motion for an injunction.
Worthy announced July 21 that her office has filed motions under M.C.L. § 769.25a to keep 41 percent of the County’s 144 juvenile lifers in prison until they die, 60 individuals plus three on “conditional” terms, and seek terms of years for 81 others. For full statute, see: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Juvenile-lifers-mcl-769-25a-1.pdf.
“In many of the 81 cases where there is a term of years, we will be seeking more time than the minimum sentence of 25 years,” Worthy said in a statement. “The public should rest assured that we will aggressively pursue life without possibility of parole in 60 other cases.”
Wayne County has by far the highest number of juvenile lifers in Michigan, 144, with Oakland County running second at 50. Of the Wayne County juvenile lifers, 98 percent are Black, while the County’s population is only 40.5 percent Black. There are 136 Black men, two Black women, and six white men, according to a list released earlier by the Michigan Department of Corrections. One hundred thirty-one Wayne County juvenile lifers have served more than the 10 years before parole consideration set by Judge Corbett O’Meara. Seventy-one have served more than 25 years, while nine have served over 40 years.
See list of Wayne County juvenile lifers at
Worthy has refused to release the names of the prisoners indicating what category each is in, saying her office is still trying to contact the victims’ families. The Miller decision did not address the issue of the victims at all, except in one judge’s dissenting opinion.
“[T]he state of Michigan has disregarded the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Miller by so-called new laws enacted since the court rulings including the U.S. District Court,” said Edward Sanders who has served over 41 years for a 1975 “first-degree murder” conviction in which he was not the shooter.
“They created new laws to resentence a JLWOP’er to a new term that may be equal to their natural life or close to the end of life. They took good time that has been earned that may in some cases equals more than 20 years, and added provisions to the murder statute eliminating it only for juvenile lifers. It is sad that SADO [State Appellate Defenders Office] is willing to proceed under these so called new laws.”
A little-publicized portion of M.C.L. § 769.25a says, “A defendant who is resentenced under subsection (4) shall be given credit for time already served, but shall not receive any good time credits, special good time credits, disciplinary credits, or any other credits thatreduce the defendant’s minimum or maximum sentence.”
Although all the juvenile lifers in Wayne County were convicted of “first-degree murder,” there are variations on that crime explicit in the circumstances of each conviction, including “aiding and abetting,” and “felony murder,” which means that the individual was convicted of participating in a crime during which a murder took place. Many juvenile lifers were used as participants by older individuals. Many could not afford reputable attorneys. Many had no idea how the legal system works, and pled guilty even if they were not, under pressure. It is now generally understood scientifically that the human brain does not fully mature, leaving factors such as impulse control unfinished, until the age of 25.
There are also grounds to believe that some juvenile lifers are innocent, railroaded in 2008 just as 14-year-old Davontae Sanford was by Worthy and Detroit police for four murders he did not commit. He was recently exonerated.
VOD has done several stories in particular on Charles Lewis, sent to prison in 1975 at the age of 17 for killing an off-duty Detroit police officer whose partner identified another man entirely as the killer. Lewis’ alibi witnesses were never called by a defense attorney who deliberately sabotaged his case.
Post-conviction hearings on Lewis’ case were ongoing but have been suspended because the County now claims it lost all his files prior to 2000. Lewis is therefore seeking dismissal of his case pursuant to a 1990 Michigan Supreme Court ruling in People v. Earl Dwayne Adkins, 436 Mich. 878. Adkins appealed his guilty plea, as did Sanford, but the state admitted that the record of the the plea was lost.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in Adkins, ” . . . .we VACATE the defendant’s convictions and REMAND this matter to the trial court for further proceedings. The transcript of the hearing at which the defendant’s guilty pleas were accepted is not able to be produced because the notes of the stenographer have been lost . . . .the record is inadequate for meaningful appellate review and so impedes the enjoyment of the defendant’s constitutional right to an appeal.”
Lewis has so far unsuccessfully requested that his current attorney, Valerie Newman, appointed through the State Appellate Defenders’ Office, file a motion to dismiss his case since there are no records of even his two trials and one conviction remaining.
The state has assigned and is paying SADO to defend most juvenile lifers in the re-hearings, although it was Attorney LaBelle and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan who first set up an independent system of pro bono attorneys after the Miller decision in 2012, to cover every juvenile lifer in Michigan.
Attorney Peter Van Hoek of SADO’s Detroit office earlier told VOD after SADO’s assignment that SADO would not attempt to challenge the state statutes.
SADO attorney Valerie Newman told VOD she is in charge of SADO’s juvenile lifer unit for the whole state. Newman said they are in the process of notifying juvenile lifers they represent about what prosecutors have recommended in their cases. She declined to give a copy of the list to VOD pending completion of that notification.
“The decision is in the hands of the prosecution, which has filed motions under a state statute,” Newman said. “No one has said the statute is not legitimate, no ruling has been made. In the meantime to do nothing means that people who are going to get a term of years will not get a chance to get in front of the parole board right now. We have plenty of people who have done more than the minimum. If my client is immediately eligible for parole, why wouldn’t I want to proceed? Even if (s)he gets a term of 40 to 60 years (s)he will be immediately eligible for parole. It remains to be determined how the parole board will handle it. A lot of these folks are very well positioned to go see the parole board and would have a good chance at parole. Until I see otherwise, I am going under the presumption that parole board will do its job, evaluate people and release those who deserve to be released.”
Meanwhile, Michigan’s juvenile lifers, who were jubilant after the Miller decision was handed down in 2012, must endure more excruciating “cruel and unusual punishment” in the coming months as state prosecutors, who have practically without exception supported juvenile life without parole for years, continue to fight to ensure that they die in prison.
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