Pennsylvania Pursues Resentencing of ‘Juvenile Lifers’

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Norman Bryant was just 15 in 1985, when he joined older brother Kenneth and a 14-year-old friend in a burglary of what they believed was an empty house in Philadelphia. It wasn’t empty. Kenneth Bryant found himself face to face with the occupant, Gertrude Jones, 82. He shoved her. When Jones died that day of a heart attack, it made the crime a murder, which carries a life sentence. Yesterday, after 32 years in prison, Norman Bryant, now a devout, bearded Muslim in a white skullcap and tunic, received a new sentence: 30 years to life in prison, making him eligible for parole, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The resentencing followed a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one ruling that automatic life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for juveniles and the other requiring states like Pennsylvania – which has 500 juvenile lifers, the most in the nation – to apply that retroactively. Most juveniles resentenced so far have been first-degree murder cases. Bryant is one of about 175 juveniles statewide convicted of second-degree murder. “I feel that if this had happened today, he wouldn’t have been in the adult system,” said Mira Baylson, a lawyer representing Bryant pro bono. “There was no intent to commit murder. There was no violence. He didn’t even know the victim was there until after she had passed away.” The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has said it will uniformly seek sentences in line with current state law: 35 years to life for first-degree perpetrators between ages 15 and 17 and 30 years to life in second-degree cases.

 

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