Semaj Moran (Photo Courtesy of Oakland County Sheriff's Office)
Pontiac— An Oakland Circuit judge Wednesday clarified the life sentence for a teenager who was 15 at the time he fatally shot two Pontiac women in a dispute over a counterfeit $10 bill one of the victims allegedly paid him for marijuana.
Semaj Moran, now 17, was convicted earlier this year of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder, two counts of felony murder and felony firearm in the February 2012 deaths of Loretta Culpepper Fournier, 52, and Luann Robinson, 58, inside their Pontiac home.
Under Michigan law, Moran would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year such sentences for juveniles amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and were unconstitutional — unless certain presentencing provisions were first met by authorities. Those provisions include determining a youth’s ability to understand right from wrong and whether the convict could someday be rehabilitated and released to society.
“At this point, all I can say is it’s life,” Judge Denise Langford Morris told attorneys at a special hearing over Moran’s sentence. “It’s not a sentence of life without parole or eligible for parole. But it’s life eligible to apply for parole.”
When sentencing Moran in July, Langford Morris did not address parole questions, stating at that time, “That’s for the parole board to decide.”
Assistant prosecutor Kelli Megyesi argued in July that proper presentence hearings for Moran had taken place and told Langford Morris: “I can think of no better case where life without parole is the appropriate sentence for this juvenile. ... He executed two women for no reason.”
Moran’s case is believed to be the first in Michigan involving a teen life sentence since the Supreme Court ruling last year, Moran’s attorney, William Mitchell, said.
“There needs to be more direction on how these juvenile life sentences have to be handled,” Mitchell said outside the court. “The U.S. Supreme Court said juveniles or children should be treated differently than adults in life sentences. And the judge today said my client is eligible to apply for parole. Which means he must be eligible for parole at some time to be determined by a state parole board.”
Moran was the admitted shooter in the two deaths. A co-defendant, Arnold Howard, 23, was convicted of a lesser offense of second-degree murder and home invasion in Robinson’s death. Howard was sentenced to 32-50 years in prison for second-degree murder and 7 to 40 years for home invasion.
Evidence and testimony showed Howard chased Robinson to a second-floor apartment and then pushed her down a flight of stairs, where Moran then shot her in the face.
Mitchell said that in natural life cases with a chance of parole, it is “not unusual for consideration after the convicted person serves 30 years. ... There are many factors that must be considered in such sentences, especially involving juveniles after the (U.S. Supreme Court) ruling that determined juveniles cannot be sent away without chance of parole.”
Before he was sentenced, Moran gave a tearful apology to the victims’ families and to his own relatives, many of whom wept openly in the courtroom.
“I hope you will one day be able to forgive me,” Moran said, fighting back tears. “Everyone makes mistakes and I know I made one. If I could take all of it back, I would. But there’s no way. It’s done.”