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Juvenile lifer who set precedent sentenced to life again

Juvenile lifer who set precedent sentenced to life again

MOULTON, Ala. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday handed down a second life sentence to an Alabama man who committed a killing at age 14 and whose case later led to a ban on mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

Lawrence Circuit Judge Mark Craig ruled that Evan Miller, despite being a teen when he committed his crime, met the legal criteria to be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Craig said the severity of Miller’s crime outweighed the mitigating factors of Miller’s young age and his abuse-filled childhood that the defense argued made him deserving of an opportunity of a chance to get out of prison some day.

Craig said a sentence of life without the possibility of parole was the “only just sentence” over the lesser punishment of life with a chance of parole after 30 years.

Miller was 14 in 2003 when he and another teen beat Cole Cannon with a baseball bat before setting fire to his trailer, a crime for which he was originally sentenced to a mandatory life sentence.

Before handing down the sentence, Craig repeated the line that Miller was attributed with saying before he delivered a final blow to Cannon, saying. “I am God, I’ve come to take your life.” Craig said those were some of “the most chilling words I have heard.”

“Had you not made the decisions that night, Mr. Cannon, in my view, would still be alive,” Craig said. "You showed cunning, not clumsy rash thinking."

Craig said he was not convinced Miller could rehabilitate and noted that Miller was the primary aggressor in the slaying.

Miller, now 32, appeared during the hearing, which was conducted virtually, by video link from an office at the Alabama prison where he is incarcerated. He did not visibly react as the sentence was read.

The Supreme Court in 2012 ruled in Miller's case that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. While other juvenile lifers across the country have seen their sentences reduced under Miller's case and a later ruling that made the decision retroactive, Miller's case had lingered without a decision.

In the 2012 opinion in Miller’s case, justices ordered states and the federal government to allow judges and juries to consider a juvenile’s age and life factors when they hand down sentences for some of the harshest crimes, instead of making life in prison without parole automatic. Miller was high on drugs and alcohol consumed with the adult victim at the time of the slaying, justices noted.

"Miller’s stepfather physically abused him; his alcoholic and drug-addicted mother neglected him; he had been in and out of foster care as a result; and he had tried to kill himself four times, the first when he should have been in kindergarten," the court wrote in the majority opinion.

At an earlier resentencing hearing, Miller’s lawyers cited his childhood of physical abuse and neglect and argued that at 14, his brain was not fully developed.

State lawyers argued Miller deserves a sentence of life without parole.

The Supreme Court had been moving toward greater mercy for juveniles over more than a decade, first ending the death penalty for people under 18 and then reducing the universe of people who could get life without parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. But in a departure from that trend, the court last week held that judges do not have to determine that a juvenile offender is beyond hope of rehabilitation before ruling that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

Updated : 2021-09-26 20:08 GMT+08:00