Henry Montgomery, 69, is known as the man of few words who works in a gym at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. His attorney from a half-century ago believes that's an enduring sign of developmental delays. Montgomery was a “slow learner,” with an IQ in the low 70s, said Johnnie Jones, now 95. He still remembers the day when Montgomery, then 17, was picked up for the murder of a deputy near Baton Rouge, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Though Angola holds more than 4,000 lifers, few have served as long as Montgomery. He has been there nearly 50 years, with no hope of release since his appeal became final in 1970.
Today, Montgomery is in the national spotlight as the U.S. Supreme Court hears his case, Montgomery v. Louisiana. Justices will decide whether to offer hope of parole to prisoners automatically sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed before they turned 18. The ruling will affect 271 prisoners like Montgomery in Louisiana and between 1,300 and 2,100 across the nation. (The range is so wide because most prison systems don't track prisoners who were juveniles at the time of their offense and because some prisoners have been released in individual court decisions that are difficult to track.) The high court took up Montgomery's case to resolve differing state interpretations of its 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling that banned automatic life-without-parole sentences for youth. Courts in 12 states have applied the Miller ruling retroactively,but have ruled otherwise in seven states, including Louisiana.