Juvenile lifers may get second chance

Jan. 31, 2013 at 3:29 PM
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DETROIT, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that life in prison for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment is retroactive, a federal judge said, reversing a Michigan ruling.

In his decision Wednesday, Judge John Corbett O'Meara said inmates imprisoned as children for life were eligible for parole, and not allowing that eligibility would create "an intolerable miscarriage of justice," the Detroit Free Press reported.

One inmate, Jennifer Pruitt, 37, has spent more than 20 years behind bars for a murder conviction, the newspaper said. She is one of more than 350 Michigan prisoners sentenced to life in prison when they were juveniles.

Robyn Frankel, Pruitt's attorney, said she plans to petition Oakland County Circuit Court, where Pruitt was convicted, to resentence her, saying Pruitt has earned her high school equivalency diploma, mentors others and is a model inmate.

Pruitt has many supporters, including a prison warden, the judge who sentenced her, even some of the victim's relatives.

Frankel said she met Pruitt in 1994 while working for the State Appellate Defender Office, which reviews and sometimes appeals convictions for indigent residents.

"Her life just felt like a tragic and sad example of a system that didn't work," Frankel told the Free Press. "She was abused as a child, and she spent a lot of time on the streets trying to fend for herself. She was just a kid who had been trying her best to survive."

Fred Mester, the judge who sentenced her in 1993, agrees Pruitt deserves a second chance, the Free Press said.

"We are a redemptive society," said Mester, who is retired. "Considering her progress, the way she has conducted herself, she deserves to be heard, to give her a chance to participate in our society."

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