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Judge Opens Door For Michigan Juvenile Lifers

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - All Michigan inmates serving no-parole sentences for murder committed as juveniles are entitled to a fair and meaningful possibility of release, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, declaring that a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision applies retroactively.

The decision by U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara in Ann Arbor trumps a ruling last fall by the state appeals court, which said retroactivity would not apply for most people already behind bars.

At issue in Michigan is how to apply a 2012 Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory no-parole sentences for those who were not adults when they were convicted of crimes, mostly murder. The state has more than 350 prisoners in that category.

The ruling is good news to Detroit attorney Gabi Silver, whose office represents four juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison. She  told WWJ Newsradio 950's Zahra Huber she believes her clients can be rehabilitated and should get a second chance.

"They were children when their crimes were committed, Silver said. "And I honestly cannot, for the life of me, find any reason why children should be incarcerated for the entire rest of their lives for crimes they commit when they were children."

Among those who are unhappy with the judge's decision is Jody Robinson, a Flint-area woman whose 28-year-old brother was brutally murdered by a teen girl and her boyfriend in 1990.

"How can we say she gets a second chance? My brother didn't get one; I certainly don't get one; my sons don't get a second chance to know their uncle," Robinson said.

"The offender advocates say these children, you know, are making mistakes. It's not a mistake when you premeditatedly kill somebody," she said. "Don't make excuses for their choices -- it's a choice that they made."

Compliance with the Supreme Court decision "requires providing a fair and meaningful possibility of parole to each and every Michigan prisoner who was sentenced to life for a crime committed as a juvenile," O'Meara said.

He told the state attorney general and lawyers for inmates to propose a way to hold parole hearings. Those next steps will be litigated for months.

"If there was ever a legal rule that should - as a matter of law and morality - be given retroactive effect, it is the rule announced in Miller," the judge said, referring to the Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama.

"To hold otherwise would allow the state to impose unconstitutional punishment on some persons but not others, an intolerable miscarriage of justice," he said.

Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers in the country.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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