Judge stops juvenile lifer sentencing process in Michigan

A federal judge on Thursday stopped Michigan prosecutors from seeking new no-parole sentences for potentially hundreds of prisoners.

U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara signed a restraining order at the request of lawyers for 360 so-called juvenile lifers who were convicted of first-degree murder when they were teenagers, some decades ago.

The lawyers said action was needed because of a July deadline for prosecutors to disclose whether they’ll again pursue tough sentences for juvenile lifers. Some prosecutors already have announced their plans.

O’Meara said the process, approved by state lawmakers in response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings, is at odds with his decision to order parole hearings for juvenile lifers, which likely would be their best shot at freedom.

That remedy, however, is on hold after an appeals court recently sent the case back to O’Meara for more work.

This latest clash is a result of how Michigan is responding after the Supreme Court said teens convicted of murder must be treated differently than adults. Automatic no-parole sentences are illegal, although the sentences still are possible in the state.

An email seeking comment from the attorney general’s office wasn’t immediately returned. O’Meara said he’ll hear arguments on a preliminary injunction on July 28.

More than a dozen juvenile lifers have spent more than 40 years in prison on no-parole sentences, including Sheldry Topp, 71, who has been locked up for nearly 54 years, attorney Deborah LaBelle said.

The parole board in 1987 and 2007 recommended that Topp’s sentence be shortened but governors didn’t act, LaBelle said.  (AP)

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