How 1,500 Serving Life For Juvenile Crimes Lost Chance For Freedom


Bloomberg News tells the story of how 1,500 prisoners sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles lost their best chance for freedom. It happened in the case of George Toca, 48, who was 17 when he was charged with accidentally shooting and killing his best friend during a failed carjacking. Largely on the basis of eyewitness testimony, Toca was convicted of second-degree murder in 1985 and given a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. In December, The Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal, which would have affected others in prison under similar sentences.

After the high court agreed to hear the case, Toca was approached by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro with an offer: If he signed a plea agreement admitting to armed robbery, Cannizzaro would drop the original conviction and Toca would be paroled immediately. Toca agreed, and the Supreme Court case was dropped. Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman suggests that Toca's case would have reflected negatively on both Louisiana and the district attorney's office, which over the decades had repeatedly fought Toca's requests for a new trial. He speculated that Cannizzaro, who refused to comment, would not want the national attention the case would have brought.

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