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August 1, 2012

Split Indiana Supreme Court upholds discretionary LWOP sentence for teen killer

As reported in this AP piece, the "Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a sentence of life without parole for a teenager who said he wanted to be like the fictional television serial killer Dexter a few weeks before strangling his 10-year-old brother."  The court split 3-2 in its ruling in Conley v. Indiana, No. 58S00-1011-CR-634 (Ind. July 31, 2012) (available here), and here is how the majority opinion gets started:

This case involves a seventeen-and-a-half-year-old who murdered his ten-year-old brother. Andrew Conley confessed to the crime and pleaded guilty to murdering his brother, Conner, while Conley was babysitting Conner.  Following five days of sentencing testimony, including the testimony of twelve witnesses and one-hundred-and-fifty-five exhibits, the trial court judge sentenced Conley to life without parole.  We hold that based on the age of Conley, the age of Conner, and the particularly heinous nature of the crime, a sentence of life without parole was appropriate.  We hold that on the facts of this case, the sentence of life without parole is constitutional.

The majority opinion in Conley discusses the recent SCOTUS Miller opinion at length. So does the dissent, which ends with this paragraph:

I disagree with the majority’s characterization of Conley’s “hardened character.”  Slip op. at 12.  While many juveniles may commit crimes that “reflect[] unfortunate yet transient immaturity,” only “the rare juvenile” is capable of committing a crime that “reflects irreparable corruption.”  See Roper, 543 U.S. at 573. I cannot conclude at this time that Andrew Conley is one of those rare juveniles.  For this reason I would revise his sentence to the maximum term of sixty-five years.

August 1, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Permalink


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I don't want, per a recent comment in another thread, to trivialize, but if "I would revise his sentence to the maximum term of sixty-five years," would this make me "ooze with sympathy" or something?

The fact this could keep the person in prison until he is in his eighties underlines the minor (natch) nature of not applying LWOP in this case.

If he wanted to be "like Dexter," wouldn't he kill people like himself, not 10 year old boys? Isn't Dexter's thing killing bad people? I admit to not knowing his full backstory. Did he kill a child like this?

Anyway, sounds like a deranged individual who would not be deterred by LWOP or even the death penalty, if he even thought that far. Dangerous person that needs to be incapacitated. Not sure how he will be in fifty years though.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 1, 2012 12:41:36 PM

The difficulty here is that the court did not disaggregate the problem. Was this sentence a penalty? Penalties are fixed before the crime was committed as a threat. Or was this sentence a punishment? Punishments are fixed after the fact as a warning, within a range that was prescribed before the offense was committed. Penalties and punishments are based on facts that do not change once established. Or was this sentence intended to control the risk that the offender may commit another crime? The facts upon which risk is based are changeable. People do change for the better or worse. How can anyone say today how dangerous this person will be in five years, let alone sixty-five?

Posted by: Tom McGee | Aug 1, 2012 12:59:03 PM

Exactly Tom. If the point of no LOWP for juvs is that they need to have another opportunity at life it doesn't take 65 years to rehabilitate one's character. In other words, neither opinion offered him a meaningful chance at life after rehabilitation. The dissent in particular is a charade.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 1, 2012 3:25:24 PM

The vengeful part of me says this kid is lucky he couldn't get the death penalty.

Posted by: anon | Aug 1, 2012 3:29:16 PM

Regardless of anything else, it would in fact appear that Mr. Conley got exactly the sort of individualized scrutiny that SCOTUS so recently told us is now required before imposing this sort of sentence upon a juvenile. My heart does not bleed for him.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 1, 2012 3:58:12 PM

"transient immaturity" vs. "irreparable corruption"

I have no specific comment about the sentence. Nevertheless, I don't think I would classify the conduct (sibling murder) as transient immaturity.

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Aug 1, 2012 4:32:44 PM

Had he waited six months he would be 18 , the brother would be as dead , and the defendant would be as evil .

If young men can earn awards for courage at age 17½ , why cannot young men answer to the consequences of their conduct at the same age .

DJB, Associate Member OACDL*
Columbus , Ohio
Nemo Me Impune Lacessit
Typing ONLY for me and not OACDL.

Posted by: M. Blank | Aug 2, 2012 3:04:21 AM

This is an interesting case. As an FYI, a 65-year sentence in Indiana generally translates to 28.5 years served. (1 for 1 good time, plus up to 4 years of educational credit time).

Posted by: PeterW. | Aug 9, 2012 11:47:03 PM

Who has the veteran NFL writer Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union reminisces. When Stellino covered the Pittsburgh Steelers, requested a phone conversation with Joe Namath to discuss their roots in western Pennsylvania

Posted by: Donald Driver Jersey | Sep 1, 2012 4:40:56 AM

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