National Roundup

High court rejects challenge to juvenile sentence

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to a criminal sentence of 50 years to life for a juvenile convicted of murder who argued that the punishment violated a U.S. Supreme Court decision because it was the equivalent of life without parole and required by law.

In a unanimous ruling, the California high court cited a state law that gives juvenile offenders the right to a parole hearing within 25 years.

In addition, the law requires the parole board to consider a defendant’s youth at the time of the crime, Associate Justice Goodwin Liu wrote.

As a result, it renders “moot” the defendant’s constitutional challenge, he said.

The ruling came amid heightened scrutiny of sentences for juveniles. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 2012 decision said children are more likely to be impetuous, fail to appreciate risks and be vulnerable to peer pressure and home environment.

It threw out mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, though it left the door open for individual judges to issue the sentence against juveniles in murder cases, but only if they consider the mitigating factors of youth.

Tyris Franklin, the California defendant, had argued that his mandatory 50-year-to-life sentence violated the ruling because it was the equivalent of life without parole and prevented the judge from considering mitigating factors.

His attorney, Gene Vorobyov, said Thursday the parole law was not an adequate remedy to his client’s unconstitutional sentence.

A judge should consider the mitigating factors of youth during sentencing and not leave that to an administrative hearing 25 years down the road, he said.

Franklin was 16 in 2011 when prosecutors say he shot and killed another 16-year-old whom Franklin accused of involvement with a gang in Richmond that he said was terrorizing his family.

He was tried as an adult and sentenced in 2012 following his conviction on murder and firearms charges.

Vorobyov said there were numerous mitigating factors in the case, including that Frank­lin’s family was harassed and threatened by gang members in the neighborhood.

Group seeks to advance appeal of Confederate flag

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Heritage Preservation Association has argued for its appeal against the city of Danville in the Virginia Supreme Court, hoping to convince the court to hear a case involving the Confederate flag.

Association attorney Kevin Martingayle argued Tuesday that the latest version of a state statute protects current monuments and memorials, including the flag that flew at Danville’s Sutherlin Mansion, the Danville Register & Bee reports.

In August, the City Council approved an ordinance that allows only certain flags to be flown on city-owned property, excluding the Confederate flag. Immediately after the vote, a Danville police officer removed the third national flag of the Confederacy at the mansion. The association filed a lawsuit, claiming breach of contract, in Danville Circuit Court.

A judge ruled in the city’s favor in October, saying a 1994 resolution between the association and the city allowing the group to install the flag is not a contract, and dismissed the case.

Martingayle filed the appeal in December. He argues that while the version of the statute that existed when the monument was erected wouldn’t protect it, the current version does.
“Subsequent versions of the statute evolved over time to protect such monuments,” Martingayle said.

Attorney Jeremy Carroll, who represents the city, said the statute’s language does not apply retroactively to the flag that flew on the grounds of the mansion.
If the court decides to hear the appeal, both sides will have 15 minutes to argue their cases in front of seven judges.

Court overturns dismissal of 1972 infant death case

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois appeals court has overturned a lower court’s decision to dismiss a first-degree murder charge against an Indiana man in a 1-year-old boy’s death more than 40 years ago.

Sixty-five-year-old Gary War­wick of Portage, Indiana has twice been charged in the December 1972 death of Joseph Abernathy III.

Those charges were dismissed in both 1974 and again in 2014 when St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert Haida ruled too much time had passed for Warwick to mount a proper defense.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch  reports the Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon on May 19 rejected the most recent ruling and sent the case back to Haida.

Warwick can appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

State Supreme Court upholds refusal to turn over jury notes

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s Supreme Court rejected a death row inmate’s attempt to access prosecutors’ notes on jury selection Thursday.

Lawyers for Curtis Giovanni Flowers wanted the court to overrule a Montgomery County judge and give them the jury selection notes in hopes that the defense could show racial bias by prosecutors in excluding potential jurors.

All justices joined the one-paragraph decision released by Justice Josiah Coleman.

Flowers has been convicted of capital murder four times in the fatal shootings of Tardy Furniture store owner Bertha Tardy and three employees in 1996. The first three convictions were overturned, and two other trials ended in hung juries. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in 2014 after the fourth conviction in 2010.

Flowers’ overall appeal is still pending in state court.

The lawyers working on Flowers’ appeal also wanted the court to order the judge to release communications between lawyer Kevin Horan and Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans over Horan’s defense of Patricia Hallmon Sullivan-Odom. She was a key witness in the case, saying she saw Flowers the morning of the murders wearing the shoes for which investigators found footprints in the Winona store. Horan is a former prosecutor and now a Democratic state representative from Grenada.

Defense lawyers speculate that Evans held back knowledge that Sullivan-Odom had been indicted in federal court for preparing false tax returns when asked by a defense lawyer about the criminal history of prosecution witnesses. Evans and Horan have denied any concealment.

Though Coleman didn’t mention it, he also denied that motion.

Sullivan-Odom is the sister of Odell Hallmon, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to three counts of first-degree murder in the April 27 deaths of the mother and grandmother of his son and a third man.

Odell Hallmon was also a witness in the Flowers prosecutions. He initially testified for the defense but later flipped, claiming his earlier testimony was a lie. He then testified in the last four trials that Flowers had confessed to the killings while they were both imprisoned at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.