Approximately 100 Illinois killers may be entitled to a hearing to determine whether their “Life Without the Possibility of Parole” sentences was fair under a recent ruling by the Illinois State Supreme Court which is based upon a ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 2012. The decisions pertained to offenders who committed their crimes when they were juveniles.
The ruling is likely to affect some somewhat notorious juveniles who were convicted of murder including Christopher Churchill who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 1998. The sentence was mandatory at the time which left the judge with no discretion. When Churchill was a juvenile, he was convicted of killing his half-brother, Debra Smith, and her three minor children. Churchill, a high school dropout at the time, used a hammer to kill each of them.
The ruling does not mean that the sentence will be reduced in any particular case. Each defendant will have the opportunity to petition the sentencing court to review their sentences because at the time of their original sentencing the judge was obligated to impose the mandatory sentence. The United States Supreme Court held that the compulsory nature of such statutes violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” In essence, the court decided that a judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the highest possible penalty for juveniles. This U.S. Supreme Court case involved two juvenile defendants who had been convicted of murder; they were both sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In one of the cases, Kuntrell Jackson participated in the robbery of a video store where the clerk was killed with a sawed-off shotgun. In the other case, Evan Miller who had been raised in an abusive home- his mother an alcoholic and the step-dad was violent) participated in a robbery of a dope dealer. Miller attacked the dealer with a bat-killing him; Just before he struck the fatal blow, Miller placed a sheet over the victim’s head and said: “I am God, I’ve come to take your life.” The cases were remanded back for re-sentencing.