Courts holding new hearings for Alabama men sentenced to life without parole as teenagers

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The case of Evan Miller, who was charged at 14 with killing his neighbor, has been to the U.S. Supreme Court and back and has changed U.S. law.

And Miller is in court this week in Lawrence County for a new sentencing hearing.

Miller vs. Alabama was decided in 2012, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a defendant who was a juvenile at the time of the offense could not be automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole. The court found that constituted cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment.

A second high court decision, in the case of Montgomery vs. Louisiana, established in 2016 that the ban against automatic life-without-parole sentences applied not just to new cases, but retroactively.

That affected about 2,300 cases around the U.S., said veteran Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel.

“Miller vs. Alabama doesn’t say that you cannot give a life without parole sentence, it just says it cannot be mandatory,” McDaniel said.

That means thousands of new sentencing hearings have to be held, including Miller’s.

In its opinion the U.S. Supreme Court said there could be juvenile defendants who were “irreparably corrupt” and deserved life in prison without any chance of parole, but the court indicated it thought that would be in a “rare instance,” McDaniel said.

The court directed judges to consider issues like the defendant's background, mental history, role in the crime, and criminal record.

The review of teen offenders who received capital murder sentences will touch on a handful of cases in Madison County. Those include Shane Click, who was charged in 1990 with killing a former baby-sitter. Click has been in an Alabama prison since 1994.

Click and Brian Storey, who was charged in 1997 with killing a convenience store clerk, are tentatively set for new sentencing hearings later this year, according to court records.

Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard told WHNT News 19 that his office will argue that the two men should remain under their current sentence, life without the possibility of parole.

But under Alabama law, the men are still looking at a minimum of several more years in prison even if their request for a new sentence of life with parole is granted. Click has been in prison since 1994 and Storey since 1999.

“In Alabama, the best you would hope for is the case going back down to a life sentence, and you spending 30 years in prison, that’s day for day,” McDaniel said.