The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struggled Wednesday over the fate of teenage Easton killer Qu’eed Batts and other juvenile murderers serving mandatory life terms, given a federal ruling that their sentences are unconstitutional, reports the Allentown Morning Call. But faced with options that were all legally tricky, the justices appeared most skeptical of the alternative Batts’ lawyers suggested — that youths convicted of first- or second-degree murder should face at most 20 to 40 years in prison for it.
Justice Seamus McCaffery noted a teen killer could be released in his 30s under that scenario. Batts was 14 in 2006 when he gunned down 16-year-old Clarence Edwards and wounded 18-year-old Cory Hilario in a gang-ordered attack in Easton. In July, the state’s highest court asked attorneys in his case to outline alternatives given the new ban on automatic life-without-parole sentences for youths. Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, it is cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a juvenile to a mandatory life term for murder, as Batts and nearly 500 Pennsylvania prisoners were. The decision didn’t bar life sentences for juveniles altogether, but said they cannot be imposed without a judge or a jury weighing the facts of defendants’ lives, how their age affected their actions, and their ability to rehabilitate as they grow older.