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Juvenile Lifer Resentencings

In 2012, the United Supreme Court decided Montgomery v. Louisiana and the approximately 2500 people who had been sentenced to life without parole as a mandatory sentence for crimes that occurred before they were 18 needed to be resentenced. Pennsylvania had the largest number of so-called juvenile lifers of any state--500--and Philadelphia had the largest number of any municipality with over 300. Amistad Law Project, along with Abolitionist Law Center, represented two of these people in their fights to get resentenced and come home to their communities.

One of the first contested juvenile lifer resentencings was for Kempis "Ghani" Songster who would eventually join our staff. While we didn’t represent Ghani in court we did mobilize for his liberation. Amistad Law Project helped organize a Community Resentencing on the day before his resentencing in court as a way to lift up his case in the press. Juvenile lifers who had come home already led hundreds of community members in discussions to discover what the gathering felt Ghani and other juvenile lifers should be sentenced to. Suggestions such as mentoring young people so they make better choices were written onto a large Community Resentencing Order that the crowd marched to the Criminal Justice Center around the corner.

Community members deliberate during Kempis Songster's 'Community Resentencing'
Community members deliberate during Kempis Songster's 'Community Resentencing'

 

Commonwealth v. Marshall

Former District Attorney Seth Williams' office wanted Kerry Marshall to serve another 5 years in prison for a total of 35 years before he became parole eligible. Amistad prepared a comprehensive mitigation report showing that Mr. Marshall could safely be released. Additionally, Amistad organized an interactive exhibit called "People Change, People Change the World" that highlighted Mr. Marshall's extensive human rights activism, the history of movements for human rights in Pennsylvania, and his deep remorse for having taken a life.

In court, Mr. Marshall was resentenced to 30 years to life and was parole eligible approximately 5 months later. He has since received parole and we eagerly await his return to the community after her serves an unrelated federal sentence. 

Friends and supporters of Kerry Marshall gather for his resentencing
Friends and supporters of Kerry Marshall gather for his resentencing


Commonwealth v. Walker

As more and more of the juvenile lifers in Philadelphia were resentenced, it became clear that the District Attorney's Office was very reluctant to give people offers of less than 25 years to life and that the three judges who handled these resentencings were reluctant to resentence people to less than that much time. Clinton Walker had been incarcerated for 19 years at the time of his resentencing. Amistad helped prepare his mitigation packet and while we were preparing for Mr. Walker's resentencing, the son of the victim in his case reached out to him. Amistad helped Mr. Walker with the flood of emotions this contact elicited and supported him as he engaged in a deep dialogue with the victim's son. Mr. Walker was able to apologize for the harm that he caused. At his resentencing, the victim's son told the judge that he had believed Mr. Walker could safely return to the community and that he considered Mr. Walker a friend. The judge resentenced Mr. Walker to 25 years to life and we look forward to welcoming him home when he becomes parole eligible in 2024.

Clinton Walker poses with members of Amistad Law Project
Clinton Walker poses with members of Amistad Law Project shortly before his resentencing.