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Arkansas to add case to growing list of juvenile life sentence appeals at US Supreme Court


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to add an Arkansas case to the growing list of appeals asking whether a 2012 ruling that struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder should be applied retroactively.

In vacating the life sentence of Ulonzo Gordon, who was convicted in the 1995 shooting death of a West Memphis man when he was 17, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in June that the decision by the nation's high court should apply to more than 50 prisoners.

"The Attorney General is seeking a writ of certiorari because she believes the Arkansas Supreme Court erred in it legal analysis and decision," said Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge.

Rutledge will submit her request in the beginning of December, Deere said.

Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig represented Gordon in his appeal as well as a handful of other juvenile offenders sentenced to mandatory life without parole. He said in that he would file a response to Rutledge's request, writing in a court filing that it is "so obviously destined to fail" and a stay of the mandate would "cause an inappropriate delay in resentencing proceedings" — Gordon included.

Rosenzweig said he and other attorneys have filed necessary paperwork in most of the other inmates' cases to verify they were younger than 18 when they committed the crimes, the first step in obtaining a resentencing hearing. Those petitions will not be heard by the lower courts until the Gordon case is resolved.

Several states have had to decide whether the change mandated by the 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama would apply to hundreds of inmates serving mandatory or automatic sentences. But there's been no consensus. Supreme courts in more than a dozen states have said the ruling should apply to previously sentenced prisoners, while seven others have said it should not. Other state legislatures have passed laws to settle the question.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a Louisiana inmate appealing that state's Supreme Court ruling that he was not eligible for a new sentence under the 2012 decision. Several justices raised questions about whether they had proper jurisdiction to hear the case, which could be dismissed on technical grounds.

Arkansas' high court said in order for "justice to be evenhanded," other inmates should be given the same opportunity as Kuntrell Jackson, an Arkansas inmate whose case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in conjunction with the Miller case.

Jackson, who was 14 when he took part in the robbery and murder of a video store clerk, had his life-without-parole sentence overturned. He has since been resentenced and is scheduled to be released in 2021 if he is not granted parole sooner.

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