Man waits for shot at freedom 2 years after landmark ruling

BATON ROUGE, La. — A landmark ruling by the nation’s highest court gave Henry Montgomery his first chance at freedom after nearly a half-century behind bars. Two years later, the 71-year-old Louisiana man is still waiting for a parole hearing that could set him free.

Thursday is the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Montgomery’s favour. The decision enabled roughly 2,000 inmates to argue for their release after receiving mandatory life-without-parole sentences as juveniles.

Louisiana’s parole board was scheduled to hear Montgomery’s case on Dec. 14 but postponed the hearing until Feb. 19.

Montgomery was 17 when he killed a sheriff’s deputy in 1963.

The Supreme Court decided in 2012 that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” punishment. The justices made their decision retroactive in Montgomery’s case.

The decision ushered in a wave of new sentences and the release of inmates from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Arkansas and beyond. But other former teen offenders are still waiting for a chance at resentencing in states and counties that have been slow to address the court ruling, an Associated Press investigation found. In Michigan, for example, prosecutors are seeking new no-parole sentences for nearly two-thirds of 363 juvenile lifers.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said prisoners like Montgomery “must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”

A state judge who resentenced Montgomery to life with the possibility of parole said in June that he’s a “model prisoner” who appears to be rehabilitated.

Montgomery initially was sentenced to death after a jury convicted him of fatally shooting Charles Hurt, an East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy.

After the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled he didn’t get a fair trial and threw out his murder conviction in 1966, Montgomery was retried, found “guilty without capital punishment” and automatically sentenced to life without parole.

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