LITTLE ROCK — The state Supreme Court on Thursday ordered new sentencing hearings for two people who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison.
The cases of Kuntrell Jackson and Lemuel Session Whiteside were remanded to the state Supreme Court by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last year that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional when applied to people under 18 because they violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
It was Jackson’s case, together with the case of an Alabama teen, Evan Miller, that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.
Jackson received his life sentence in the shooting death of Laurie Troup, a video store clerk who was slain in a November 1999 robbery in Blytheville. Prosecutors said Jackson, who was 14 at the time, did not fire the fatal shot but served as a lookout while two other teens carried out the robbery.
Whiteside received his life sentence in the January 2009 shooting death of James London Sr. in Little Rock. Prosecutors said Whiteside, who was 16 at the time, did not fire the fatal shot but planned and took part with another teen in the robbery of London in which London was killed.
Jackson and Whiteside were both convicted of capital murder. Arkansas law currently allows only two possible sentences for capital murder: death or life without parole.
In separate opinions Thursday, the state Supreme Court remanded Jackson’s case to Jefferson County Circuit Court and Whiteside’s case to Pulaski County Circuit Court for new sentencing hearings. The state Supreme Court said that because the capital murder statute has been ruled unconstitutional as it applies to juveniles, Jackson and Whiteside must be sentenced under the sentencing range provided for a Class Y felony.
A Class Y felony is punishable by 10 to 40 years in prison or life. The state Supreme Court said Jackson and Whiteside must be allowed to present evidence about their “age, age-related characteristics and the nature of the crime” in their defense.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law Act 1490 of 2013, which allows people convicted of capital murder for crimes committed as juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole or life with the possibility of parole after they have served at least 28 years in prison.
The bill is to take effect 90 days after the legislative session officially adjourns, which is set to happen May 17.