Prosecutors seek to keep juvenile offenders behind bars

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — The newspaper headlines may be faded but the horrific crimes could grab headlines again as automatic life sentences for juveniles come under scrutiny.

A Rochester Hills couple taken from their home and coldly executed in a park by two teens. An Avon Township mother, her young daughter and teenage relative stabbed to death in a rape/slaying. A police officer, lying on his back and helpless, fatally shot with his own gun by a teen he had given a break to and driven home to relatives.

The mandatory life sentences without parole are to be revisited following a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that that struck down automatic life terms for anyone under 18 years as cruel and unusual punishment.

The defendants were teenagers at the time of the crimes and judges, attorneys and others say they were not mature enough to control or realize the serious nature of their actions.

But authorities gathered Wednesday at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office in Pontiac to support prosecutors seeking to keep violent teen killers like them behind bars for life, saying resentencing will endanger the public, be costly and only serve to bring more pain to the victims' families.

In Michigan there are have been 363 such sentences since 1962, which will be eligible for resentencing. Any juveniles sentenced to life moving forward will be given a minimum of 25 to 40 years sentence and a maximum of 60 years before parole consideration.

"The Supreme Court has decided to take a second look at those who were sent to prison for a life sentence without parole for juveniles," said Oakland County Sheriff Michael J. Bouchard. "These aren't 'poor kids' who went for a joyride or some simple mistake. They took lives.”

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper earlier this month said her office filed 44 cases for resentencing. But she said her office plans to ask for a stay on each case to maintain the life terms. She added prosecutors have to file their motions by the end of August.

Cooper called the cases in which the teen killers received a life without parole some of the most "heinous, heinous" crimes she's seen as a prosecutor and former judge.

"We're talking about people who have stabbed, drowned, electrocuted ... triple murders, serial murders," Cooper said last week. "This is the stuff nightmares are made of."

Bouchard said Wednesday in the cases of “these violent and vicious murderers ... we stand with her,” referring to Cooper.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara signed a restraining order at the request of lawyers for 360 juvenile lifers. Some prosecutors, like Kym Worthy in Wayne County, have already announced plans to seek full resentencings with a chance for parole for 81 of the county’s 145 juvenile lifer cases.

"We spent a significant amount of time analyzing each case. Although we had a short amount of time under the statute, we gave a considered and thoughtful review," Worthy said in a statement Friday.

"We combed trial transcripts, prison records and numerous other documents. We sought input from victims' families, when they could be located during this short window of time. Without commenting on my personal opinion, we have fulfilled our obligation to protect the public and to follow the spirit and intent of the Supreme Court decisions."