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St. Joseph – A Michigan man sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile will have a chance at freedom after a judge granted him a resentencing.

Berrien County Trial Court Judge John M. Donahue vacated Michael Johnson’s life sentence for second-degree murder on Tuesday, the Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph reported . Donahue cited new evidence regarding juvenile brain development in his decision to resentence Johnson.

A resentencing hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Johnson pleaded guilty to killing 16-year-old Sue Ellen Machemer in 1980, when he was 17.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. Prosecutor Aaron Mead has argued that the 2012 ruling doesn’t have to be retroactively applied to Johnson because he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and his sentence carries the possibility of parole.

But Johnson has said that the Michigan Parole Board has never expressed interest in paroling him. He has repeatedly been denied of any meaningful opportunity for release, Johnson’s lawyers argued.

Johnson’s attorneys also said that the Parole Board has taken no notice of Johnson’s numerous accomplishments in prison. Johnson obtained a GED diploma and an associate degree. He has completed vocational training for office jobs and received a certification as a paralegal. Johnson is also a member of the Ionia Correction Facility Suicide Watch Team, which requires staying up all night with inmates who are at high risk of suicide.

Donahue in his ruling wrote that Johnson and other juvenile offenders received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole “but find themselves serving a de facto life sentence as the Michigan Parole Board has not provided a meaningful opportunity to obtain release.”

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