A Baltimore man sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed when he was 15-years-old lost his bid for a shorter sentence, but newly passed legislation could grant him another opportunity at early release.
Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals ruled Wednesday that the sentence handed down to Louis Easter in 2001 was legal, keeping him behind bars, at least for now. But the court called him a candidate to have his sentence reduced or modified later this year when new legislation targeting individuals sentenced as minors goes into effect.
Easter and Gerard Brown were convicted of murdering Al Dante Brown and Clarence Miller in Baltimore in 1999. Prosecutors alleged that the two, who were 15- and 16-years-old at the time, went looking for Brown after he insulted Easter’s grandmother and fatally shot him, then shot and killed Miller when he came to his friend’s aid.
Easter was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years. In his appeal filed with the court, he argued the sentence was unconstitutional and served as an effective term of life without the possibility of parole, which would violate his Eighth Amendment rights, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that such sentences for minors are cruel and unusual punishment.
The appeals court rejected his argument, saying that his sentence is legal because under Maryland law he has a reasonable opportunity for release at some point.
In this week’s ruling, the Court of Special Appeals wrote that Easter’s also has another method for seeking release from prison, citing this year’s passage of Senate Bill 494, which allows inmates who were sentenced to life in prison when they were minors to request sentence reductions after serving at least 20 years in prison.
The legislation, which was passed in April after the state Senate and House of Delegates overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto, goes into effect Oct. 1 and could apply to Easter’s case, appeals court judge Douglas Nazarian wrote.
Easter has spent more than 20 years in prison on the life sentence.
“We express no view here on when he might become eligible to file a motion or on the merits of any motion he might file, but he seems squarely to be among the individuals whom this change in the law was designed to reach,” Nazarian wrote in the opinion.
Maryland’s court system also is exploring altering its rules to allow inmates who were sentenced before turning 25 to seek new sentences after serving at least 15 years behind bars.