HARRISBURG (AP) – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Tuesday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a state inmate serving life without parole for a teenager’s slaying when the prisoner himself was only 14.
Lawyers for Qu’eed Batts, now 21, cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in arguing that a mandatory life term for someone so young constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
In ordering a new hearing, the state’s high court ruled that Batts must be given a minimum sentence and a maximum term of life.
Batts was convicted in Northampton County of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the 2006 shooting death of 16-year-old Clarence Edwards and the wounding of another teenager. Batts said he was acting on the orders of a gang leader.
The defense argued that Batts could be rehabilitated and recommended a sentence of 20 to 40 years.
Prosecutors said Batts killed in cold blood and deserves a life term.
Of the ruling Tuesday, defense attorney Phil Lauer said he was disappointed that the court didn’t adopt his recommendation. But he told The (Easton) Express-Times he was glad his client now has the chance of someday being freed.
“It’s not exactly what we were asking for,” Lauer said. “But from a standpoint for this client, he gets a chance to make an argument that he shouldn’t have to spend his life behind bars.”
First Assistant District Attorney Terry Houck praised the ruling, noting that the nation’s highest court had not entirely forbidden life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, although the court said such sentences should be uncommon.
Under a new Pennsylvania law, anyone under 15 convicted of murder faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison without parole; those 15 to 18 face a minimum of 35 years. The new law, however, would not apply to Batts’ case.