|Juwan Wickware is the first juvenile in Michigan to be sentenced to life in the iron college.|
The Huffington Post is one of my favorite websites. I often check some of the stories and this one happen to grab my attention.
Did you know that the United States is the only country in the world that will charge a juvenile as an adult and put the individual in the iron college for LIFE without the possibility of parole?
Lionel Tate rings a bell, don't it?
Well there's a big controversy up in the state on how this juvenile (although a criminal) is being sentenced to the iron college on the merits of capital murder.
Do you actually want to explain to the family of that pizza delivery driver Juwan Wickware killed on that night?
Do you believe that even though a killer, should the American justice system have sympathy for the young?
Also since we're living in the days of President Barack Obama, would the racist right make noise about this?
After all, the racist right will make this young teen another "Ttayvon" and "Jordan".
Michigan Live reports that Juwan Wickware's life in prison without the possibility of parole is monumental.
This is the first-of-its-kind sentencing hearing following a U.S. Supreme Court decision banning mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders.
Genesee Circuit Judge Archie Hayman issued the sentence Tuesday, Aug. 20, for Juwan Wickware following two hearings that explored Wickware's mental status, criminal history and upbringing.
Wickware, 19, was convicted of first-degree felony murder in August 2012 in the 2010 shooting death of 33-year-old pizza delivery driver Michael Nettles on the city's north side. Wickware was 16 at the time of Nettles' death.
"I think the judge made the correct ruling," Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said.
State law calls for a mandatory sentence of life without parole for those convicted of felony murder. However, the Supreme Court ruled in June 2012 that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles are unconstitutional.
Wickware was the first juvenile facing the possibility of life without parole in Michigan since the Supreme Court's ruling.
Hayman conducted the multiple hearings, which included testimony from a mental health professional, school official and police officer, in an effort to comply with the Supreme Court's decision that calls on judges to individually tailor sentences for juvenile offenders.
The Supreme Court said that life without parole sentences can be handed down to juveniles as long as the sentencing judge analyzes the circumstances of the case and the juvenile's prior history and decides that the punishment is appropriate for the defendant. The hearings were part Hayman's analysis.
Hayman said that a number of aspects of Wickware's past led him to believe that a sentence of life in prison without parole was appropriate, particularly a June 2007 carjacking.
Authorities say Wickware was one of five people to approach a car and order a man, woman and their children out of the vehicle at gunpoint. Hayman said one of the suspects fired off a round from an AK-47 rifle before the group fled.
Wickware was later caught by police running away from the stolen vehicle. Wickware pleaded to an amended charge of receiving and concealing stolen property. The charge was dismissed after he successfully completed probation.
Hayman said that Wickware was a "threat to society to some extent" and that he was a member of a "very dangerous gang."
Wickware admitted to joining the Merrill Hood gang and began carrying a gun when he was 15 after dropping out of school. He also admitted to illegally using marijuana, ecstasy and Xanax.
Authorities say that Wickware attended 9-10 different schools and was suspended a total of 14 times -- mostly for assaulting and fighting other students. His final suspension was for 120 days for striking a school security guard.
"I'm disappointed with the court's ruling," said Wickware's attorney, Jodi Hemingway. "Some of the evidence that went against Juwan was actually favorable to him."
Hemingway pointed to testimony that showed Wickware had difficulty adjusting to life after being all-but-abandoned by his father and raised by a mother who struggled to provide for him and his three other siblings.
"He's not responsible for the circumstances of his childhood," Hemingway said.
Officials said that Wickware struggled academically, has an IQ of 71 and is functionally illiterate.
Witnesses testified during the trial that one teen who was charged but eventually acquitted by a jury fired a .40-caliber pistol and Wickware fired a .22-caliber rifle at Nettles April 7, 2010, near the corner of Sonny Avenue and Sterling Street.
A .40-caliber bullet was found in Nettles and .22-caliber bullet casings were found at the scene.
Testimony showed that Nettles was shot eight times.
Nettles was robbed and killed while delivering a pizza that was ordered by Quantageah Penegar, who was with Wickware and the other teen at a home next door to where the shooting occurred. Penegar said Wickware and the other teen are the two who robbed Nettles.
A woman who was in Nettles' Jeep with him as he delivered pizza said that Nettles was initially shot in the back outside of the vehicle. He then made it back inside the Jeep, where he was shot again.
Nettles managed to drive away from the scene before his vehicle came to a rest after crashing into a fire hydrant.
Hayman said Wickware was "in the thick" of the "very egregious" robbery and murder.
Leyton said Hayman handled the case appropriately and that it was watched by other prosecutors and by legislators trying to get the state's mandatory sentencing statutes to comply with the Supreme Court's decision.
State Rep. Joseph Haveman, R-Holland, has introduced legislation that would provide judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing juvenile offenders.
"The judge has a better handle on things than the Michigan Legislature," Haveman said, adding that not all cases are clear-cut and that sentencing should not take a one-size-fits-all approach.
Haveman said history shows that the philosophy of locking offenders up and throwing away the key has been a failure -- leaving nothing but large bills and continuously high crime rates in its wake.
"Some people -- let me emphasize, some people -- need a second chance," Haveman said.
Devin Schindler, a professor of law at Lansing-based Cooley Law School, said Hayman's ruling in this case could have an impact on similar cases across the state.
"Any ruling by this judge would not be binding on other circuit courts," Schindler said, adding that a binding ruling wouldn't be established until the state Court of Appeals rules on the issue. "But, the judge would provide a map for the other courts."
Marsha Levick, the deputy director and chief counsel of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, said that Michigan is not the only state forced to respond to the Supreme Court's decision.
Levick, who filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, said 28 states were affected by the court's ruling, but only nine or 10 have so far responded by changing their laws. She added there is a push under way to include standardized guidelines on how the individualized sentencing hearings should be conducted.
"We read (the Supreme Court decision) expecting life without parole sentences will be quite uncommon and rare," Levick said.
However, Amnesty International, a human rights group that also submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, issued a statement following Hayman's decision calling for a complete end to juvenile life sentences without parole.
"The sentencing hearings aren't enough to bring the United States in line with international law, which prohibits life without parole for anyone under the age of 18," the organization's statement said. "Amnesty International calls on the Michigan state Legislature to abolish life without parole for children, under all circumstances."
Haveman's legislation is slated to be discussed next week, but the legislator said he doesn't expect it to be passed into law anytime soon.
"We've got a long way to go," said Haveman.