La. DAs make decision on 'life without parole' for 250+ juvenile offenders
(WAFB) - Louisiana district attorneys have made their decisions about what to do with 250 juvenile offenders behind bars for violent crimes. However, some already worry the DAs could be setting Louisiana up for another Supreme Court battle.
According to data from the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights, the DAs will be taking about a third of the juvenile offenders back to trial in an attempt to get them put away for life. Although the 250 juveniles were already sentenced to life behind bars, up until the end of October when the DAs made their final decisions, their fates were in limbo.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that automatic life sentences for teenagers are unconstitutional. The court indicated that instead, such life sentences should be reserved for only the "worst of the worst."
In an effort to bring Louisiana into compliance with the Supreme Court ruling, legislators passed a new state law forcing DAs to decide: either take juvenile offenders back to court to pursue new life without parole sentences or allow those inmates a chance at freedom after 25 years behind bars.
One of the cases that will be going back to court is that of Dale Dwayne Craig, convicted in 1992 at age 17 of killing an LSU freshman during a carjacking. At the time, the trial was clearly agonizing for the parents of the dead student, Kipp Early Gullet.
"It's hard enough to get up in the morning and go to work, 'cause a lot of days you just want to lay down and die," said Gullet's father during an interview with 9News in the early 1990s.
But now, a quarter of a century later, Gullet's parents will go back to court again. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office has chosen to pursue a life without parole sentence against Craig.
In the 23rd Judicial District, DA Ricky Babin says he has decided to go back to court with four of his six cases. He says that includes two inmates who committed execution style murders. "The particular cases I'm pursuing, the heinous nature of those crimes, in the beginning, are just shocking," Babin said. "I'm not going to argue the point that someone can change, but the penalty for an egregious act is egregious penalty."
However, some question whether the DAs are indeed saving the "life without parole" sentence for the "worst of the worst" if they are pursuing it in one of three cases.
Jill Pasquarella, an attorney with the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights, says the state's DAs are setting Louisiana up for further Supreme Court cases. "When we start seeing some parishes saying 40 percent of children are rare, or 30 percent of children are rare, then I think we really have a problem with our compliance," she said.
However, Babin says they have evaluated each case individually. "If you're going to try to quantify, the 'worst of the worst' should be 10 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent, or 100 percent, it's not going to work. It's not going to match. It's the facts," he said.
If DAs do not take certain inmates back to court, they are not automatically released. Instead, they must serve 25 years and undergo rehabilitation services before appearing before the parole board.
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