MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A man sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for raping and killing a Woodbury woman when he was 17, and seven other Minnesota inmates, likely will get hearings on whether their sentences should be reduced under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling handed down Monday, attorneys said.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday made retroactive its ruling from 2012 that struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles who kill. The previous ruling did not say whether it should be applied retroactively, and the Minnesota Supreme Court concluded in 2014 that it should not. But ruling in a Louisiana case, the nation's highest court said Monday that the prohibition applies to older cases, too. The decision gives about 1,200 inmates nationwide a chance at freedom. The seven affected states also have the option of making all those offenders eligible for parole.
Assistant State Public Defender Steven Russett said he believes the decision requires that Minnesota courts resentence Tony Roman Nose and the other defendants in similar situations. Russett represented Roman Nose in his unsuccessful 2014 appeal to the state Supreme Court.
"This doesn't mean anything other than these defendants will be entitled to a hearing to determine if they would receive a sentence with the possibility of parole," Russett said. "And it doesn't mean these defendants will ever be released from prison. The most it means is they would be eligible -- and the key word is eligible -- for parole at some future date."
Fred Fink, chief of the criminal division in the Washington County attorney's office, agreed with Russett's analysis but he said he highly doubts Roman Nose will go free given the facts of his case. Roman Nose, now 33, remains incarcerated in the state's maximum security prison at Oak Park Heights.
Roman Nose was two months shy of his 18th birthday -- the traditional age of adulthood-- when prosecutors say he raped and killed Jolene Stuedemann, 18, of Woodbury in 2000, stabbing her 29 times with a screwdriver. Her mother, Jeanne Stuedemann, said she thought the issue was settled, and she felt sick to learn that Roman Nose might now get a chance at parole.
"We're tormented by this. They promised he'd never get out," Stuedemann said.
Including Roman Nose, the decision affects eight Minnesota inmates who were sentenced to life without parole for murders they committed as juveniles, said Perry Moriearty, a University of Minnesota law professor who represents two of the other defendants and has tracked all eight cases.
"They will tell you the lack of hope is the most excruciating part of this to bear," she said.
The eight include Mahdi Hassan Ali, now 23, who was re-sentenced earlier this month for the 2010 killings of three people at Seward Market and Halal Meat in Minneapolis. His new sentence of three consecutive life terms means he won't become eligible for parole for 90 years. Monday's decision could be grounds for reconsidering Ali's sentence, Moriearty said, noting that the Supreme Court said life in prison for juvenile crimes should be rare, only for the most heinous cases.
"Any sentence that's a functional life-without-parole sentence should be suspect," she said.
Five of the eight cases are from Hennepin County, where County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement that his office would evaluate them "with all due speed" to determine what, if anything, needs to be done to comply with Monday's ruling.
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