- Lawrence Budd Staff Writer
A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people serving life terms for murders they committed as juveniles must have a chance to seek their freedom could affect more than 1,000 inmates across the nation, but will not impact a Warren County case.
The court’s decision Monday is not expected to affect the case of Austin Myers, who was 19 years old when he was sentenced to death Oct. 16, 2014, in Warren County.
Myers, now 21, of Clayton and a former classmate at Northmont High School were both convicted of murdering Justin Back, 18, at his home outside Waynesville. Myers was 19 at the time.
The Supreme Court ruling relates to cases involving people sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed before they were 18 years old, according to legal experts.
“It applies to juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole, not adults who were given the death penalty,” Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said.
Monday’s ruling is viewed as significant in Ohio because it raises other legal issues with the state’s sentencing laws, according to Jill Beeler, appellate services director for the Ohio Public Defender’s Office.
Using the ruling, appeals can question the legality of lengthy prison sentences ordered for juveniles, Beeler said.
“No child should be sentenced to die in prison,” she said.
On Monday, the justices voted 6-3 to extend a ruling from 2012 in Miller v. Alabama that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for juvenile killers.
The court ruled in the case of Henry Montgomery, who has been in prison for more than 50 years for killing a sheriff’s deputy as a 17-year-old in Baton Rouge, La., in 1963.
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling is the latest in a series of four related to juveniles sentenced to die or life without parole.
In other states, juveniles could be sentenced to the death penalty, until 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that no juveniles 16 or 17 years old could be put to death.
This extended the prohibition of juvenile executions to exclude anyone younger than 18.
In 2010, in Graham v. Florida, the court found no child could be sentenced to life without parole for anything other than murder.
In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the court found juveniles could not be sentenced to mandatory life without parole, although courts still had discretion to order this sentence.
On Monday, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the court ruled the Miller decision was retroactive, thus affecting any inmate sentenced as a juvenile to life without parole.
In Ohio, life without parole is the most severe sentence for juveniles.
The Ohio Public Defender’s Office said there were less than 10 inmates who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without parole, but the sentences were not mandatory in those cases.
“There are no immediate impacts on any Ohio cases,” Beeler said. “We’ll be assessing whether there are any other impacts for any of our other cases.”
Myers was the youngest inmate on Death Row in Ohio when he was admitted on Oct. 17, 2014.
His co-defendant Timothy Mosley, also 19, testified that he stabbed Back 21 times on Jan. 28, 2015, but that Myers was the key planner. Mosley was sentenced to life in prison in exchange for his testimony.
Myers’ execution has been stayed while on appeal in the Ohio Supreme Court.