By Paul Egan and Tresa Baldas
A U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes mandatory life sentences without parole unconstitutional for juveniles should not be applied retroactively, a divided Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday in a ruling that brought joy to some families shattered by horrific crimes, but heartbreak to others.
Michigan juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole prior to the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama do not have to get new sentencing hearings, the court said in a 4-3 opinion.
The ruling is a defeat for more than 300 Michigan inmates serving mandatory life sentences without parole for murders committed when they were teenagers.
And it was a victory for Attorney General Bill Schuette, who argued that families who went through the sentencing hearings once should not be subjected to the same trauma a second time.
For survivors of Dave VanBogelen of Muskegon, who was bludgeoned to death by two teenagers in 1990, the ruling was an answered prayer.
"It was a brutal and heinous crime ... and they didn't care," said Amanda McGregor, 31, of Grand Haven, whose father's two teenage killers are serving life without parole.
"The only time they cried was when they got life sentences. There wasn't any remorse. They took my dad when I was 7 years old. My brother was 12. My mom had to raise us by herself. They don't deserve to walk the same streets that my children and I do."
McGregor's father was 34 when two teenagers met him at a bar, lured him back to their Muskegon Heights apartment and then stabbed him to death after robbing him of $1,500 and his Ford Ranger pickup.
The 19-year-old stabbed him to death; his 16-year-old girlfriend hit him over the head with a bottle and helped clean up the mess.
The then-teen couple were sentencedin 1991.
McGregor's brother, David VanBogelen, who carries his father's name, said his family was not prepared to go through another sentencing.
"I'm glad it's over," VanBogelen said. "They took away from us something that can never be replaced. Their freedom is the least that they can give up for that. ... They don't deserve another chance."
But Amanda Jones of Grand Rapids, whose ex-husband Anthony Jones is serving a life sentence without parole for a 1979 Kalamazoo County killing committed when he was 17, said the decision is "heartbreaking."
"He was not the actual shooter," said Jones, who married Anthony Jones for a short time after he went to prison. "He's been in prison for 35 years."
Jones has changed and been rehabilitated during that time and "everyone deserves a second chance," she said.
Though the ruling comes from the highest court in Michigan, it does not settle the question, since related legal fights continue at the federal level and a Michigan case is now before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Markman said the U.S. Supreme Court did not make sentences to life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles. It only made automatic life sentences unconstitutional for juveniles and required a different sentencing procedure to be followed to determine whether such a sentence is appropriate.
Because the change mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court is only procedural, and it doesn't alter the range of possible sentences, the ruling should not be applied retroactively, said Markman, who was joined by Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. and Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano.
Justice Mary Beth Kelly wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Michael Cavanagh and Bridget McCormack.
Kelly said the U.S. Supreme Court did alter the range of sentences, because juveniles who could only get life without parole under the old system are now eligible for something less.
"Accordingly, we would hold that Miller applies retroactively under federal law," Kelly wrote.
The decision broke mostly along partisan lines, with four GOP-nominated justices ruling against retroactivity. But Kelly, a former Wayne County Circuit Court judge who was nominated by Republicans, joined two Democratic nominees in writing the dissent.
One of the cases the justices considered was from 2006, when Raymond Carp, then 15, helped his half brother, Brandon Gorecki, then 22, murder May Ann McNeely, 43, in St. Clair County.
Gorecki delivered the fatal stab wounds, evidence showed. But Carp threw a mug at the woman and pulled the blinds closed while the killing happened.
Carp won't get a new sentencing hearing based on Tuesday's ruling.
Schuette, a Republican, said the ruling "should bring a measure of peace to the many families who struggled with the possibility of painful resentencing hearings for cases successfully prosecuted decades ago."
Schuette has said many families of murder victims want the teenage killers locked up forever, as they were promised they would be at the time of sentencing.
For 67-year-old Patricia McLemore of Burton, whose son is serving a life sentence for a crime he committed when he was 16, the ruling was a devastating blow.
"I'm very disappointed," McLemore said through tears. "(He) was just a child and really had no comprehension of (his) actions ... He just wants a second chanceand the fact that he didn't actually commit the crime but was just an accessory -- it shouldn't be this way."
Patrick McLemore and a 19-year-old broke into a Burton home to rob it. A 67-year-old man wound up beaten to death. Patrick said that when he entered the home, his co-defendant already had killed the man.
Still, Patrick got a life sentence in 2000 after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder. His co-defendant, Nathan Reid, got 37 1/2 to 50 years after pleading no contest to a lesser murder charge.
McLemore said she understands the outrage and pain victims' families experience when violent crimes happen. But she still doesn't believe her son deserves to die in prison, saying he has matured a lot behind bars -- earning a degree in small business management -- and still has a lot to offer the world.
"I get both sides. That's what's so hard," McLemore said. "I feel for them, and I feel for us."
Patrick's 22-year-old brother, Samuel Doyle II, said he believes his brother's punishment is "just too harsh."
"He was was definitely just a kid. He was a child. The human brain isn't even developed (at 16)," Doyle said, noting Patrick "got a worse sentence than the actual murderer. Where's the justice?"
Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan, which filed a brief in the case, said the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to settle the issue, since seven states have differed with Michigan in finding that the Miller case is retroactive.
A separate case, about whether such juveniles are entitled to parole hearings, is now before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Korobkin said.
The Michigan Catholic Conference expressed disappointment with the ruling.
"We call upon the Legislature to pass a measure that will allow for juveniles sentenced to a life term before the Miller decision to have the opportunity for a parole hearing at some point during their sentence," the conference said in a news release.
"Our position is driven by the need to balance compassion and protection for victims with the opportunity for offenders to rehabilitate their lives, which should be the goal of the corrections system."
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