Friday, February 7, 2014

Life sentences thrown out for three juvenile murderers. 23 more could be next.

It’s considered a big step for juvenile justice advocates.  Those favoring tough sentences are not pleased, even if they knew it was coming.

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Douglas Mantich, Eric Ramirez, and Juan Castaneda all committed murder.  They were also teenagers at the time and sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison.  Two years ago the rules changed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no juvenile should be handed a mandatory life sentence.  It was considered cruel and unusual punishment.

Nebraska had been slower than some states to follow the Supreme Court’s mandate.  That changed today.

All three inmates had their life sentences overturned by the Nebraska Supreme Court.  Each will not get a new sentencing hearing in the District Court which found them guilty and sent them to jail.  The three will be the first inmates given reduced sentences since the federal court ruling and a resulting change in Nebraska state law ending life sentences for juveniles.

Today’s rulings will likely lead to hearings for 23 others also put away for life when they were still juveniles.  The key was the ruling in Mantich’s case, in which a majority of the court stated that even though the U.S. Supreme Court made its decision only two years ago, it applies retroactively to convictions handed out years earlier.  Two justices in the minority strongly dissented.

It appears all 26 inmates facing a life sentence have filed briefs to have their sentences reviewed, according to the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, which is handling some of the case.  There may be additional delays in setting hearing dates while attorneys wait to see if the state Supreme Court allows a review of today’s rulings.

The cases sent back today for re-sentencing (click on the link to read the rulings).

  • Douglas Mantich was 16-years-old living in Omaha when he was involved in a gang-related murder of Henry Thompson in 1993.
  • Juan Castaneda and Eric Ramirez were both convicted of several charges related to three separate shootings that occurred in Omaha in 2008.  They were part of a group involved in the killing of Luis Silva and Tari Glinsmann during a series of robberies.  Castaneda was 15-years-old at the time. Ramirez was 17.
    Eric Mantich, Eric Ramirez, Juan Castaneda (Dept. of Corrections)