New sentencing for Ark. inmate given life as teen

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A man sentenced to life in prison without parole when he was 14 years old deserves a new sentencing hearing, Arkansas’ highest court ruled Thursday.

The state Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Kuntrell Jackson, whose case was one of two that led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year throwing out mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles.

“We agree with the State’s concession that Jackson is entitled to the benefit of the (U.S.) Supreme Court’s opinion in his own case,” Justice Josephine Linker Hart wrote in the Arkansas Supreme Court’s unanimous decision.

It’s not clear when Jackson’s new hearing will be held, but when it is, the justices said he may present evidence about his age and the nature of the crime.

Arkansas’ high court also said Jackson’s sentence has to fall within a range of 10 to 40 years or life.

One of Jackson’s attorneys, Blake Hendrix, didn’t immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment. Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, said they respect the state Supreme Court’s decision and weren’t surprised by it.

Jackson was sentenced to life in prison after the shooting death of a store clerk during an attempted robbery in 1999. Another boy shot the clerk, but Jackson was present, and so he was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery.

Jackson is now 27 years old and is serving his sentence at a maximum-security prison in Arkansas. He will stay there until the Department of Correction receives instructions from the court saying otherwise, prisons spokeswoman Shea Wilson said.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision came in the robbery and murder cases of Jackson and Evan Miller, who also was 14 when he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

Miller was convicted in Alabama of capital murder during the course of arson. A neighbor, while doing drugs and drinking with Miller and a 16-year-old boy, attacked Miller. Intoxicated, Miller and his friend beat the 52-year-old man and set fire to his home, killing him.

Using Jackson’s case, Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor said in a separate opinion that they would have gone even further than just getting rid of laws requiring mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles like Jackson.

“There is no basis for imposing a sentence of life without parole upon a juvenile who did not himself kill or intend to kill,” Breyer said in a separate opinion last year.


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