Juvenile injustice? Not all given second chance despite court ru - WNEM TV 5

I-Team

Juvenile injustice? Not all given second chance despite court ruling

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MICHIGAN, (WNEM) -

A heinous crime, an underage killer and a high court ruling offering a second chance.

Hundreds of Michigan prisoners were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles. They received a message from the nation's highest court saying they deserve a second chance at freedom. Only in the rarest of cases should someone not be re-sentenced to a chance at parole, but the I-Team discovered the ruling is not being followed.

"He shot six people in cold blood in a house while they slept. It doesn't get any colder than that,"Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said.

That shooting happened on Russel Street in Flint in 1987 and is one of 26 cases Leyton put under the microscope. It was one of Flint's more horrific crime scenes. It happened at the hands of 17-year-old Terry Morris.

"There was overwhelming evidence that Terry Morris was murderer of all six and I am gonna stand by that in court," Leyton said.

Instead of following the Supreme Court's ruling to re-sentence Morris, now 47, to 25 to 60 years with a chance for parole, Leyton stands by his recommendation to keep Morris behind bars for life.

"We decided case by case which ones we should petition for a reinstatement of life without parole and which ones we should determine a sentence of years," Leyton said.

The ruling determined in only the rarest of cases should a juvenile murderer not be considered for a new sentence.

Leyton recommended less than five percent of the 26 receive less than life.

One of those the I-Team discovered is Thomas Armstrong. In an unprecedented interview from inside prison he spoke to TV5 on the phone.

"I am just thankful that I am one of the ones who had that support of friends and family," Armstrong said.

He was 15-years-old when he was convicted of the murder of Eric Watson in 1989. He was one of three teenagers involved in the deadly burglary. After 27 years Armstrong is the only one still locked up.

"It was a mistake. It was a terrible mistake and every day I wish I could take it back," he said.

With Leyton's recommendation a judge re-sentenced Armstrong to 28 years.

"That means in 10 months, he gave me 28 years with credit for 27 years and two months, so he has 10 months left," Leyton said.

The chance for parole seems to be a hard-fought battle for another juvenile murderer - James Washington.

It was 1999 when the then 17-year-old killed Joseph Kinville in the backyard of a Saginaw home on Stone Street. Washington also spoke to TV5 from inside prison.

"Just thinking back to when I was in the streets and I was doing negative things for years and I've been doing positive, trying to right my wrong if you will, by example of how I am living in prison," Washington said.

Washington said he's not that killer kid anymore. He's 34-years-old and he's a youth mentor, volunteers in prison and takes classes. However, the Saginaw  County prosecutor has recommended his life sentence remains.

"I am sorry for what I did. I truly apologize and I am very remorseful for what I did and I live my life differently because of what I did," Washington said.

Washington will now have to fight that recommendation in front of a judge.

He is one of 21 cases under review in Saginaw County. There are two in Bay County and four in Shiawassee County. Genesee County has the most in Mid-Michigan with 26 cases.

"There are no second degree murder cases. There are no carjackers, armed robbers, burglars, larceny. These are all first degree murder," Leyton said.

Leyton said he is not defying the Supreme Court with his recommendations. He said he's speaking for the victims who are no longer here to stand up for what's right.

"I understand that teenagers may not be fully developed, but you have to balance that with heinousness of the crime," Leyton said.

One prisoner sent TV5 a letter. He committed murder three months after turning 18. It happened during a fight with teenagers outside of Hamady High School in 1991.

He wrote the letter about second chances, something he won't ever get. You can read it here:

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