Michigan second to Pennsylvania in juvenile no-parole sentences

GRAND RAPIDS (AP) -- Michigan ranks second in the nation in the number of prisoners sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles, a news organization reported recently.

Michigan law makes a sentence of life without parole mandatory for first-degree murder. The state has no death penalty for murder, and life without parole is the hardest penalty on the books.

MLive.com and its affiliate, Booth Newspapers, said that 358 Michigan prisoners were juveniles when they committed crimes for which they received sentences of life without parole. That's second only to Pennsylvania, which has 472 prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles, the news report said.

Nationwide, about 2,500 people are serving life without parole sentences handed down to them as juveniles, the news group said.

Michigan has about 10 million residents, or about 3 percent of the nation's 300 million people. But the state has about 14 percent of the nation's prisoners with no-parole sentences received as juveniles.

Among those serving life-no parole sentences in Michigan is Saulo Montalvo, 31. He was 16 years old and acting as a getaway driver in a 1996 convenience store robbery in which a clerk was shot to death in Kent County.

"I've wasted so much of my life already," Montalvo said. "But if I had to make a choice, I'd choose forgiveness from (the victim's family) over getting out of prison."

According to the news organization, Michigan spends about $10 million a year to imprison the 358 people who were between ages 14 and 17 when they committed their crimes. One in five has been in prison at least 25 years, and one is now 67 years old, the news group said.

Shirley Schwartz said she never believed in capital punishment but said she "was pretty sure I could pull the switch" after her brother, Jerry Freid, was beaten to death with a baseball bat during a burglary at his Grand Rapids house. The killers were 16 and 17 years old.

When told that one of her brother's attackers died in prison, Schwartz said: "Good."

A federal court case in Detroit seeks to have the mandatory life no-parole sentence declared cruel and unusual punishment.

Angela McConnell was 17 in 2000 when she participated in a robbery in Kalamazoo County in which three people were killed. She was arrested in 2007.

"If I hadn't ... been hanging around any of those people, I'd be home with my babies being the mom I'm supposed to be," said McConnell, now 28. "And that's what I think about a lot, being home with my kids."

Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth said life without parole for juvenile killers is right in many cases. His office has helped convict 19 of the 23 people in the county who are now serving life without parole for crimes they committed at age 17 or younger.

"To say all 14-year-olds are incapable of committing heinous crimes is simply not the case," Forsyth said. But, he added, "I think you have to be really careful as a prosecutor whether you go that route or not."

Kevin Robinson was 15 when he was involved in the robbery of a man in 2000 at a Muskegon Heights bar. Robinson's 16-year-old friend, Marlon Walker, fired the gun.

"I wish I was older when it happened," said Robinson, now 27. "I was just young and stupid."

Published: Thu, Nov 17, 2011

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