The US Supreme Court has handed down a landmark ruling Monday affecting prison sentences for juveniles convicted of murder. Hundreds of juveniles around the country who have been sentenced to life without parole for murder will all be granted new sentencing hearings. That, after the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences for those under 17 qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.
The family of a Lawrence County is shocked to hear the news.
"Evil can come in the form of a 14 year old," said Candy Cheatham.
Cheatham's father, Cole Cannon, died in July of 2003 when two teenage boys beat him with a baseball bat and then set his trailer on fire.
"Evan Miller took my dads T-shirt, put it over his head and said ‘Cole I am God and I come to take your life.'"
Miller, 14 at the time, was sentenced to life without parole.
Alabama, and 28 other states, have mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles found guilty of capital murder. Miller's sentence was contested all the way to the top court. Groups like the American Psychiatric Association and the American Bar Association threw their support behind the change.
Miller's Attorney Bryan Stevenson released this statement after today's ruling:
"This is an important win for children. The Court took a significant step forward by recognizing the fundamental unfairness of mandatory death-in-prison sentences that don't allow sentencers to consider the unique status of children and their potential for change," said Stevenson. "The Court has recognized that children need additional attention and protection in the criminal justice system," he continued.
The vote was far from unanimous, 5 to 4, and the public is split on the issue as well.
"No child should be held accountable for their acts for the rest of their life," said Huntsville resident Jordan Heintz.
Cheatham, with old wounds reopened, says her journey to recovery and acceptance, is beginning all over again
"The decision just came today so there is still some shock, there is still upset. I have cried pretty much all day long so I'll still have to process this."
In 2005 the court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death. Juveniles can still be sentenced to life without parole for murder, but the judge is now required to take into account the child's age and potential for rehabilitation.