HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday its prior ruling banning automatic life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders applies retroactively, which affects about 2,000 cases around the country.
The ruling is likely to be felt in Alabama, which has more than 70 prisoners sentenced to life in prison without parole for murders committed as juveniles.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange criticized the ruling.
“Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, murder victims’ families may be put through the ordeal of seeing the person responsible for the death of their loved one years ago being allowed to receive a new sentence,” Strange said in a news release.
Two Huntsville men convicted in separate capital murder cases at age 17 have already petitioned the courts for resentencing. Those petitions followed the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Miller vs. Alabama, which shaped Monday’s ruling in Montgomery vs. Louisiana.
Shane Click was convicted of capital murder for the 1990 killing of Ginger McClure. He’s been in prison since July 1994.
Brian Storey was convicted in the 1997 killing of convenience store clerk Nicole Williamson. He’s been in prison since August 1999.
In both cases, prosecutors sought the death penalty. Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel was successful in persuading the jury and the court to give them both the lesser sentence of life without parole – the only other sentence possible.
Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard said he understands the reasoning behind the court’s decision regarding juvenile offenders, though he disagrees with it. He said in the cases of Click and Storey, there should be no possibility of parole.
“When you look at the specific facts of how an innocent victim met their end, in those cases, I can see no logical reason why either one of those should be granted parole, or have possibility of it,” Broussard said.
Regarding Click, he said, “In one, they beat a poor girl to death in bed with a baseball bat.”
On Storey, Broussard said, “In the most cool and calculated way, you decide to execute a young woman who was working an honest living as a cashier in a store and you just snuff out her life.”
Click’s appeals lawyer, Stephen Strickland, said Click is a good candidate for parole. He said Click was severely mentally ill at the time of the murder and has been a model prisoner. Strickland said Click has not received any infractions since he’s been in custody.
The Alabama Supreme Court has previously rejected arguments that the Miller decision applied retroactively. Strickland said he filed notice with the U.S. Supreme Court on Click’s behalf and said he would await the high court’s ruling.
The case is likely headed back to the Alabama Supreme Court and possibly the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion Monday gave states the option of simply establishing the possibility of parole for the life-without-parole inmates rather than resentencing the inmates.
Huntsville attorney Ron Smith said Alabama appears to have two choices.
“(In the Montgomery opinion), the Supreme Court held that “[a] state may remedy a Miller violation by extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders.” Based on that, it seems that an amendment of a sentence to life with the possibility of parole would cure the Miller violation, Smith said. “If the state did not agree to such an amendment, then a new sentence hearing would have to be held.”
McDaniel said in fighting to keep a client off day row, he’d remind him and his family that with life, there was hope.
“If we can save your life and not get the death penalty, someday this may change, and it did,” McDaniel said.
DA Rob Broussard said in the cases of Click and Storey, the punishment should be settled.
“And that in itself is an act so evil that a just punishment is they can be sitting in a penitentiary for the rest of lives. And they ought to be happy they don’t have the death penalty,” Broussard said.