America’s young lifers


Sentencing: Ruling gives jailed teens some hope for reprieve

BY SUSAN HAIGH, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

America's young lifers

Nicholas Aponte

Photograph by: The Associated Press Files , The Associated Press

 

When Nicholas Aponte recalls the night in 1995 that sent him to prison, he describes an immature 17-year old who told himself he was tough but in reality lacked the nerve to say no to a cousin he admired for being a troublemaker.

Sitting with a group of boys on a porch, playing cards and drinking, the cousin said he needed to “do a robbery” and asked if Aponte wanted to tag along.

“I said, ‘OK, we’ll do the robbery or whatever,'” Aponte said. “It was spur of the moment.”

The plan failed. A 28-year-old sandwich shop assistant manager was killed during the robbery. Aponte was later arrested, as was his cousin, younger brother and a friend. Even though Aponte didn’t fire the gun, prosecutors considered him the ringleader. He was treated by the courts as an adult and sentenced to 38 years without parole. That means he will be 55 when he’s freed.

“All this time was hard to perceive, for somebody so young,” Aponte said in a recent prison interview. Now 35, with more than half his life spent in Connecticut prisons, Aponte dreams of finishing his bachelor’s degree, becoming a nurse and spending time with his family, including a son who was an infant when he was imprisoned.

Aponte is among an estimated 2,100 so-called juvenile lifers across the United States – inmates sentenced to lengthy prison terms without parole – who hope for a reprieve in the wake of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Miller v. Alabama. The decision determined such sentences are cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. The court ruled, 5-4, that the proportionality of the sentence must take into account “the mitigating qualities of youth,” such as immaturity and the failure of young people to understand the ramifications of their actions.

In part to head off an avalanche of expected appeals, at least 10 states have changed laws to comply with the ruling.

In Connecticut, where Aponte is among about 200 inmates who could be affected by the high court’s ruling, a proposal that would have allowed parole hearings for teen offenders who’ve served at least 12 years or 60 per cent of their sentence died this year.

There are plans to resurrect the bill next year.

Via The Province

 

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