Maryland's second-highest court on Tuesday ordered new sentencing hearings for three men convicted of murders they committed as juveniles, saying the judges who sentenced them to life in prison without parole did not consider whether they could be rehabilitated.
In three opinions, the Court of Special Appeals noted that the Supreme Court has held that such sentences should be reserved for the "rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption."
The decisions grant new sentencing hearings to Aaron Dwayne Holly, who was convicted in Baltimore County; Marcus William Tunstall, convicted in Prince George's County; and Kenneth Benjamin Alvira, convicted in Wicomico County.
Holly, Tunstall and Alvira had filed motions to have their sentences reconsidered, but were denied at the circuit court level.
The appeals court pointed to two Supreme Court rulings — Montgomery v. Louisiana in January, and Miller v. Alabama in 2012 — on juvenile life sentences.
In 2004, Holly was one of two men convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Tanya Jones-Spence in Randallstown. He was 17 when he committed the crime.
"Although the sentencing court was aware of Holly's age when imposing sentence, it did not address his youth to any significant degree, much less the possibility that he could be rehabilitated," Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser wrote in the opinion. "Rather, the court focused on the heinous nature of the crime and 'deterrence and punishment.'"
Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said Tuesday that his office would still seek a sentence of life without parole in the Holly case, as well as others that are being challenged in light of the Supreme Court decisions. He said the courts have not ruled out life without parole for juvenile offenders in Maryland, but have laid out certain factors that a judge must consider.
"We're going to continue to seek the same sentences," Shellenberger said. "The real shame in all of this is it really opens up wounds for all of the victims' families."
Tunstall was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in 1991 for killing three people. He, too, was 17 at the time of the crime. Alvira was convicted in 2009 of first-degree murder, armed carjacking and other offenses committed when he was 16.
Russell Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, represents the mother of one of Tunstall's victims. He said the ruling would be upsetting to the victims' families.
"I think that this unfortunately is going to traumatize a lot of the victims of these offenders," he said. "They're going to want to make sure that the court understands the consequences of these horrific crimes."
The opinions were unreported, meaning they do not set legal precedent for other cases.
But as president of the Maryland State's Attorneys Association, Shellenberger said he sent the opinions to prosecutors across the state Tuesday.
"Legally it should not be used as precedent, but clearly I think that every prosecutor in this state would use this as guidance," Shellenberger said.