Teen murderer Vancleave resentenced, can apply for parole

Posted: April 20, 2017 at 1:11 a.m.

Attorney Mark Freeman (left) of Fayetteville sits with client James Vancleave April 4 in Mark Lindsay's courtroom in the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville.

A murderer sentenced to life in prison as a teen almost 40 years ago now has the possibility of parole.

Supreme Court rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down automatic life sentences with no chance of parole for teenage killers more than four years ago in Miller v. Alabama. The court didn’t say if the ruling applied retroactively. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority saying judges weighing prison terms for young offenders must take into account “the mitigating qualities of youth,” including immaturity and the failure to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that Ulonzo Gordon should get a chance for resentencing in Crittenden County Circuit Court. Gordon was 17 when he was involved in the murder of a West Memphis man in 1995.

A divided U.S. Supreme Court said Jan. 25, 2016, the earlier ruling should be applied retroactively. The ruling means inmates convicted years ago must be considered for parole or given a new sentence. The decision doesn’t bar judges from sentencing teen killers to life in prison, but the court has said life sentences for teens should be rare and only used in the worst cases.

Source: Staff report

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