LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday it wouldn’t order a new sentencing hearing for a man who was 15 when he killed a police officer during a discount store burglary in 1977.
John Lohbauer, now 56, had said a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited mandatory life sentences for juveniles entitled him to another sentencing hearing. Justices said the Arkansas Legislature’s decision last year to make juvenile offenders such as Lohbauer eligible for parole after 25 years was a sufficient remedy.
“As (Lohbauer’s) sentence of life imprisonment now carries with it the possibility of parole, his contention that his sentence violates” the U.S. Constitution is incorrect, Justice Robin Wynne wrote for the court.
A lower court had said it didn’t consider Lohbauer’s life term mandatory because, at the time of his sentencing, first-degree murder was punishable by either a term of years or life. Lohbauer said it was mandatory because it was required under a plea bargain that took the death penalty off the table.
Justice Shawn Womack, who both concurred and dissented in parts of Thursday’s opinion, said he didn’t understand why Lohbauer was in court: he has been in prison for 40 years, so he’s eligible for parole.
“He has clearly served the twenty-five-year minimum,” Womack wrote.
Lohbauer pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Texarkana police Lt. Ed Worrell and was sentenced to life plus 40 years. Gov. Mike Huckabee rejected a Lohbauer clemency request in 2005 after the state parole board recommended against it.
According to court records, Lohbauer shot two police officers with a high-powered rifle while serving as a lookout for two others during a break-in at a Howard Discount Center along the city street that divides Texas and Arkansas. Worrell died and Officer James Clark was wounded. Lohbauer’s accomplices were paroled in 1986.