The state’s top lawyer and his staff are studying this week’s U. S. Supreme Court decision that states cannot send juveniles to prison for life without parole unless juries have a chance to consider extenuating circumstances — such as age, home situation, abuse, and other factors.
Missouri law provides only two sentences for murder cases — death or life without parole. The United States Supreme Court already has said juveniles cannot be sentenced to death. Now it is saying they cannot automatically be sentenced to life without parole either. The ruling says they can still draw that sentence, but juries have to decide if personal circumstances favor a lesser sentence, including regular life with a chance for release some day.
Attorney General Chris Koster was a local prosecutor who sent sent one of the 84 people to prison who are covered by the ruling. He and his staff are reviewing the ruling and trying to determine what’s next.
He says some cases are so old that it will be difficult, to say the least, to re-assemble the evidence for a new sentencing hearing. More recent cases might lend themselves to new sentencing hearings. Regardless, Koster says the legislature will need to address the issue for future cases.
He says younger offenders can still be tried as adults. But he says it will be up to juries to decide if a juvenile accused killer is adult enough for life without parole.