22 juvenile lifers get chance at resentencing, parole, Oakland County prosecutor says

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Correction: The timeline of the election of Karen McDonald as Oakland County prosecutor has been corrected. She defeated Jessica Cooper in the August primary, and was then elected by voters to the post in November.

Pontiac — Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald announced Tuesday that 22 people who were convicted of murder as juveniles and sentenced to life in prison without parole would receive a chance at resentencing, leaving them eventually eligible for parole.

Based on time served, some could potentially go before the Parole Board within a few months, according to the Prosecutor's Office.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald

The action breaks with the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office past position on juvenile lifer sentencings. In response to past U.S. Supreme Court rulings that life without parole for youths under 18 were unconstitutional and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, McDonald's predecessor, Jessica Cooper, sought reimposition of life sentences without parole rather than a set sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court rulings involved Miller v. Alabama in 2012 and Montgomery v. Louisiana in 2016.

McDonald, who defeated Cooper in the August primary and went on to win election in November, said Tuesday her office studied 27 Oakland County cases after reviewing terms of a class-action settlement in a 2020 lawsuit, Hill v. Whitmer, against the state of Michigan for not resentencing juvenile offenders serving life without parole. Some of the cases date back 39 years and some offenders have served decades behind bars, McDonald said.

“As prosecutor, my primary obligation is to keep Oakland County communities safe and to follow the law,” McDonald said. “In rendering  these decisions, I am obeying the Constitution, and pursuing sentences that will keep our communities safe until these individuals are no longer a threat.”

Unless challenged by a prosecutor as exhibiting violent behavior or showing an inability to be rehabilitated, those who were sentenced as juveniles must receive a minimum of 25 to 40 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 60 years before parole consideration.

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McDonald had between 60 and 120 days to respond to the class-action settlement, which required setting a timeline for resentencing, her chief assistant David Williams said Tuesday. Those who are resentenced must still go before the Parole Board for consideration of release if they have served a sufficient number of years of their sentence.

McDonald said her office could still appeal to the Parole Board if they don’t feel an offender is ready to be released from prison. She is still seeking additional information in at least five juvenile lifer cases.


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