Attorneys react to SCOTUS ruling on juvenile sentencing

Published: Jan. 26, 2016 at 2:55 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2016 at 3:30 AM CST
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Henry Montgomery, in the blue, with family. (Source: Montgomery family)
Henry Montgomery, in the blue, with family. (Source: Montgomery family)
Henry Montgomery with family (Source: Montgomery family)
Henry Montgomery with family (Source: Montgomery family)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A second chance could be coming to teenagers who were convicted of murder and sent to spend the rest of their lives behind bars after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday.

Nearly 50 years ago, then 17-year-old Henry Montgomery was sentenced to life in prison. His crime was killing an East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Deputy. Now 69 years old, Montgomery has grown up in prison, but may get a shot at life without bars.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court barred automatic life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, saying several factors should be considered when handing out punishment for child offenders including a capacity for change.

"The consideration should be that children are different when it comes to sentencing," said attorney Mark Plaisance.

However, there remained some question over if the ruling applied to old cases, as well as future cases. That was a question Montgomery and his attorneys wanted answered.

Louisiana's top court said the ruling only applied to future cases. But Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a new decision that it could be applied retroactively. Montgomery's case was the basis for the decision.

The ruling means more than 200 men and women in Louisiana currently serving time for murder committed as teens could get a chance for parole.

"The court should consider whether at one point in the future they may have exhibited some capacity to be rehabilitated and have an opportunity to reenter society," said Plaisance, who argued Montgomery's case before the Supreme Court.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hiller Moore disagrees. He said he's disappointed in the Supreme Court's ruling, pointing out that life sentences for murder are not handed out lightly.

"The Supreme Court says it's going to be a rare case where someone is sentenced to life, which I surely disagree with," said Moore. "We have a significant problem with youthful murderers. This is disheartening."

Moore said there are 16 murder trials in East Baton Rouge where the sentencing could now be reviewed, including Montgomery. Some of these cases stretch back decades.

"I'll have to try to find reports from 10 to 50 years ago. I have to try to find victims from 10 to 50 years ago. Find officers, find judges, many of whom have passed away since trying these cases to determine how am I going to go forward," said Moore.

Plaisance said their next step is filing motions in district court asking for a re-sentencing for Montgomery.

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