Juvenile lifers get support from teen students

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Hundreds of students from a Roman Catholic school are asking the Michigan Supreme Court to give some prisoners a chance at release, saying they "know, live and acknowledge" how teenagers commit impulsive acts.

The court this week accepted a legal brief signed by 450 of 530 students from Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor. It comes two weeks before the court hears arguments in cases involving prisoners who are serving mandatory no-parole sentences for murder committed when they were teens.

The court will decide whether more than 300 inmates should get new sentences that could someday lead to their parole. The issue is whether to apply retroactively a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which says people under 18 have a right to a hearing that explores their background, education, influences and anything else that may have preceded the crime.

"How is it just to continue a practice in Michigan that has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court?" the students said in a brief drafted mostly by junior Matilyn Sarosi and filed by Grand Rapids attorneys Jon Muth and Patrick Jaicomo.

The students said all people have the potential to express sorrow for their sins and be rehabilitated. They quoted prisoner Damion Todd, who said he hadn't lived on "Earth long enough" to understand the impact of his actions.

"We know, live and acknowledge this impulsiveness and rashness in our daily lives, and know it is prevalent amidst our peers. ... It is illogical to give the harshest sentence, a sentence that does not allow redemption, to the ones who may have the greatest capacity for redemption itself," the students said.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Marcia McBrien said it's unusual to get a brief from teenagers.

She said outside voices "can bring a special expertise or perspective that enriches the court's decision-making."

Arguments are scheduled for March 6. Attorney General Bill Schuette is urging the court to deny any retroactive benefit to prisoners. Separately, state lawmakers recently passed new sentencing rules that follow the U.S. Supreme Court decision, but they wouldn't apply to current inmates.

Published: Fri, Feb 21, 2014