Maryland’s second-highest court has affirmed a 100-year prison sentence for a man who was 17 when he was convicted for his role in a 2004 shooting outside Randallstown High School that left a man paralyzed.
Matthew McCullough, now 30, sought a review of his sentence after a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that found children have special legal protections against extraordinarily long sentences. The high court has also ruled that mandatory life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional.
His attorneys filed a motion in March 2016 for a review of his sentence, arguing it violated provisions of the Constitution against cruel and usual punishment.
In an opinion released Wednesday, however, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals said McCullough’s overall sentence for charges in the shooting was “not egregious” and did not “give rise to an inference of gross disproportionality.”
McCullough was 17 when the shooting occurred in the Baltimore County school’s parking lot in May 2004. Prosectors alleged that he and another suspect, Tyrone “Fat Boy” Brown, shared a handgun and between them fired 12 shots into the crowd, injuring four students.
The most seriously injured was William "Tipper" Thomas III, then 18. Thomas was left paralyzed from the waist down.
A jury convicted McCullough in 2004 of four counts of first-degree assault, one for each victim. He was sentenced the maximum 25 years for each conviction, to be served consecutively, for a total sentence of 100 years.
Brown was sentenced to 30 years for attempted second-degree murder and a consecutive 20-year term for a handgun charge.
Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, praised the court’s decision to deny McCullough’s request for a sentence review.
“There were four victims and four sentences under Maryland law,” Butler said in a statement. “Justice demands accountability for the harm caused by McCullough to each of his victims.”
James Johnston, McCullough’s attorney and director of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender's Youth Resentencing Project, said his office plans to appeal.
“We anticipate asking the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to review these decisions, as they impact litigation going on throughout the state and potentially affect several hundred inmates serving life sentences or very long term-of-years sentences for offenses committed as juveniles,” he said in an email.
There are dozens of challenges pending throughout the state to sentences of life and life without parole imposed on juveniles.
In McCullough’s case and others, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender filed motions arguing that lengthy sentences for juveniles that amount to life terms are "constitutionally suspect" and "fundamentally unfair."
The Court of Special Appeals recently ruled against defendants in three similar cases, according to opinions released this month.
James Bowie, sentenced to life in Charles County for attempted first-degree murder in 1997; Jafet Hernandez, sentenced to life for first-degree rape in Prince George’s County in 2007; and Daniel Carter, sentenced to life in Baltimore for first-degree murder in 1999, each filed a motion to review sentences they deemed “illegal” and were denied in Circuit Court. They appealed, and the Circuit Court rulings have been upheld.
Also this month, a Montgomery County judge denied a new sentencing hearing for Lee Boyd Malvo, who was a juvenile when he was convicted and sentenced to six consecutive life terms in his role in the D.C. sniper case. He is now 32.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland also has a case pending in federal court against the state, arguing that Maryland’s parole system for juvenile lifers is unconstitutional because none has been paroled in decades.
Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.