CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The prosecuting attorney in Taylor County says the Legislature “blew it” with a law change that, he said, will give juvenile criminals, even those convicted of crimes as adults, a chance at parole in 15 years — no matter the crime.
John Bord said, as it’s currently being interpreted, the law change the Legislature made earlier this year is retroactive — leading to parole hearings for more than half a dozen people who had been sentenced, as adolescents and teens, to life in prison in West Virginia.
The law change was a response to a June 2012 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Miller v. Alabama. Evan Miller was convicted of murder and arson at the age of 14. Citing the Eighth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, Miller’s attorneys successfully argued against the mandatory life sentence Miller received for the crimes.
The 5-4 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court found such mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.
Bord, though, said the case should not have had any effect in West Virginia. “We don’t have any mandatory life sentencing. It’s a jury question,” he said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
He cited the case of Larry Donald Hall. A Taylor County jury convicted him of first-degree murder without mercy in 1995 — meaning a life sentence — when he was within weeks of his 18th birthday. He strangled, drowned and choked a man and then hauled the body around in the back of a truck for several days before dumping the body in Barbour County.
With the law change, Hall, now 37, is scheduled for a parole hearing in September. Bord said Hall belongs in prison. “It was an egregious crime,” he said.
He is calling on lawmakers for action to reverse the law. “I think the Legislature needs to revisit this.”