Belton (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Lansing — A convicted cop killer serving a mandatory life sentence without parole must be returned to Oakland Circuit Court for resentencing, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in a recent opinion.
Jonathan Belton was 15 when he was arrested for the Dec. 28, 2008, fatal shooting of Oak Park police Officer Mason Samborski.
The Appeals Court ruling this week comes in the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that found automatically sentencing a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and was 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.
Jurors convicted Belton, who is now 21, after a trial which revealed Samborski had stopped him for driving without a license and then apparently took him to an apartment complex to be released to a responsible adult. But at the apartment complex Belton obtained Samborski’s weapon and shot him, according to evidence presented at his trial.
It’s unclear what impact, if any, a resentencing will have on Belton. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office was unavailable for comment.
Earlier this month and at the request of the prosecutor’s office, Oakland Circuit Judge Denise Langford Morris clarified a life sentence for a Pontiac teenager who fatally shot two Pontiac women in a dispute over a counterfeit $10 bill one of the victims allegedly paid him for marijuana.
In that trial, Semaj Moran, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, was convicted 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.
Langford Morris initially sentenced Moran, who is now 17, to life in prison and said it was up to the Parole Board to decide whether he should be considered for parole.
In her clarification hearing on Oct. 16, Langford Morris described the sentence as “not a sentence of life without parole or eligible for parole. But it’s life eligible to apply for parole.”
William Mitchell, Moran’s defense attorney, said the state Legislature needs to provide Michigan courts with guidance involving the sentencing of those 18-years-olds who face life sentences.
In natural life cases with a chance of parole, Mitchell said 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.”