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Life sentence reform for juveniles may pass by St. Louis robber serving 241 years

Life sentence reform for juveniles may pass by St. Louis robber serving 241 years

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ST. LOUIS • Bobby Bostic won’t get much sympathy, given the nature of his crime.

A St. Louis judge certainly wasn’t feeling any when she sentenced him to 241 years in prison for a set of armed robberies in 1995.

It was just before Christmas when Bostic and another young man held up a group delivering gifts to the needy in north St. Louis.

Nobody was significantly injured, although two victims easily could have been killed by shots that were slowed by their heavy winter coats before the bullets broke skin.

Bostic, 16, and his accomplice, Donald Hutson, 18, later kidnapped a woman, put a gun to her head, fondled her, stole from her, then dumped her back on the street.

A jury convicted Bostic of 17 counts ranging from robbery to armed criminal action. Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker stacked jurors’ sentencing recommendations one atop another.

“You made your choice. You’re gonna have to live with your choice, and you’re gonna die with your choice because, Bobby Bostic, you will die in the Department of Corrections,” Baker told him.

Across the nation, many juvenile offenders who committed even murder are now getting a second shot at sentencing, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama. It made unconstitutional automatic punishments of life without parole for youths.

Before that, the nation’s top court ruled in Graham v. Florida that juveniles who commit non-homicides must have “a meaningful opportunity for release” and cannot be sentenced to die in prison at all.

Yet, under the current circumstances, Bostic most certainly will. He first becomes eligible for parole in 2089, at age 110.

Bostic is serving what some say is a de facto life sentence — separated from the lifers only by a legal distinction.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed cases such as his, although some state courts have.

Missouri, which still calls for a minimum of life imprisonment in all first-degree murder convictions, regardless of age, is far behind. The courts and legislature are still grappling with how to manage just the basics of the Miller ruling.

The sheer length of Bostic’s sentence has drawn attention, though.

Connie De la Vega, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, said it was “the worst” she’s seen. Bostic wrote to her while she was supervising a juvenile sentencing project. Struck by his case, she submitted a brief seeking to intervene as an outsider in one of his appeals.

“People with more egregious offenses are getting (rehearings) and he’s not” because his penalty isn’t called life, she remarked in a recent interview. “It’s really quite incredible.”

Even one of Bostic’s victims, who asked not to be named here out of continuing fear of him, said she was shocked to learn of his 241-year term.

“People who have committed heinous crimes — murder and rape — are getting a lot less of a sentence,” she said. “What he did could have been worse, but at the end of the day, you are tried for the crime you committed.”

SENDING A MESSAGE

Bostic, barely old enough to drive at the time of his crimes, was certified for trial as an adult. At sentencing, Judge Baker said she intended to send a message to all young people wreaking havoc on the city.

He is serving the longest sentence of any juvenile offender in the state, not counting the 81 murderers who could get reconsideration under the Miller ruling.

Joining Bostic in what is in effect a lifelong sentence are youth offenders such as Orlando Fields, also of St. Louis, who was given 227 years for a crime rampage in 2003 that included a murder and multiple carjackings and shootings.

Only two other juvenile offenders in the state are serving more than 100 years. They also are killers.

Bostic is serving a vastly greater sentence than Hutson, his accomplice, who received 30 years and will be eligible for parole six years from now.

Both men were accused of firing guns that night. The only difference: Bostic went to trial and Hutson pleaded guilty.

While state law calls for a mandatory parole review after 75 years in prison, that doesn’t apply to Bostic. His two separate crimes, while tried together, were considered separate for parole purposes.

Last Name First Name Current Age Offense Age Offense year Sentence year Sentencing County
Harris Lisa 44 17 0 1987 Greene
Jackson Lawanda 38 17 1993 1994 St. Louis City
Eastburn Sheena 38 17 1992 1995 McDonald
Thomas Tommy 46 17 1985 1987 St. Louis County
Dayringer Joseph 43 16 0 1987 Jasper
Wilson Liddell 43 17 0 1988 St. Louis City
Roland Theron 43 17 0 1988 Pettis
Mcelroy Ralph 45 17 1987 1989 St. Louis City
Vincent Michael 40 16 0 1990 St. Louis City
Mcroberts Michael 41 16 1989 1990 St. Louis City
Goforth Jerry 41 17 1990 1991 Dunklin
Stewart Curtis 39 16 0 1991 St. Louis City
Brewster Douglas 40 16 1991 1992 St. Francois
Lay Jeromy 40 17 1991 1992 Callaway
Anderson Edward 39 17 0 1993 St. Louis City
Minks Jason 38 17 0 1993 Randolph
Brown Norman 38 15 1991 1993 St. Louis County
Branch William 33 17 1999 2000 Cole
Grice Jeffery 39 15 1990 1993 St. Louis County
Williams Michael 36 16 0 1994 St. Louis City
Clark Joseph 38 16 1993 1994 Jackson
Benjamin Charles 36 15 1993 1994 Jefferson
Jones Tony 37 15 1993 1994 St. Louis County
Barnaby Shawn 37 16 1993 1995 Jackson
Gamble Trevin 37 16 1993 1995 St. Louis City
Brown George 37 17 1994 1995 Jackson
Evans Lonnie 39 17 1992 1995 St. Louis City
Davis Chad 40 16 1991 1995 Jackson
Ross Henry 38 17 1993 1995 St. Louis City
Rush Jess 39 15 1991 1996 Camden
Forest Roderick 37 16 1993 1995 St. Louis City
Creed Christopher 37 17 1994 1996 Camden
Rousan William 37 16 1993 1996 St. Francois
Lockhart Lonnie 35 16 1995 1996 St. Louis County
Hack Nathaniel 36 16 1995 1996 Jackson
Allison Hasan 36 15 1993 1996 St. Louis City
Caldwell Damon 36 17 1995 1996 St. Louis County
Davis Jeremy 36 17 1995 1996 Jackson
Polk Christopher 37 17 1994 1996 St. Louis City
Wade Carlos 36 17 1995 1997 St. Louis City
Morant Tyrone 35 17 1995 1997 St. Louis City
Cotton Michael 36 17 1995 1997 St. Louis City
Hicklin James 35 16 1995 1997 Johnson
Burns Sterling 37 17 1995 1996 St. Louis City
Mccombs Marcus 35 16 1995 1997 St. Louis City
Aikens Levar 34 16 1996 1997 Jackson
Burris Joseph 34 15 1996 1997 Pulaski
Davis Michael 35 17 1996 1998 Jackson
Saddler Carlos 35 17 1996 1998 St. Louis City
Pinner Derrelle 34 15 1995 1998 St. Louis City
Taylor Michael 35 15 1995 1998 St. Louis County
Santillan Christopher 39 17 1992 1998 St. Louis County
Simmons Christopher 38 17 1993 2003 Jefferson
Clark Louis 35 17 1995 1999 St. Louis County
Lacy Terrell 34 17 1997 1998 St. Louis City
Ramirez Antonio 34 17 1997 1999 Cass
Proud Robert 33 17 1998 1999 Washington
Wilson Zachary 33 17 1998 1999 Randolph
Williams Trent 38 16 1993 2011 Jackson
Thomas Johnnie 31 16 1999 2000 St. Louis City
Davis Sheron 33 17 1999 2000 St. Louis City
Griffin Gary 33 17 1998 1999 Lafayette
Clerk Cedric 31 15 1998 1999 St. Louis City
Carter Jessie 33 17 1998 2000 Maries
Barge Crystal 31 17 2000 2006 St. Louis City
Wolf Joshua 30 16 2000 2001 Boone
Dixon Joe 31 17 2000 2001 St. Louis City
Cole Jared 31 17 2000 2002 St. Charles
Lotts Quantel 28 14 1999 2003 St. Francois
Payne Jeremy 33 17 1997 2003 Pulaski
Crawford Deangelo 29 17 2002 2003 St. Louis City
Tripp Zacheriah 28 16 2001 2003 Buchanan
Brooks Jarrell 29 17 2002 2004 St. Louis City
Waites Demont 29 16 2001 2005 St. Louis City
Allen Rodney 26 16 2004 2006 St. Louis County
Stirlen Alexander 26 17 2005 2006 St. Louis County
George Edward 24 16 2006 2008 Jackson
Andrews Antonio 22 15 2007 2009 St. Louis City
Robinson Aaron 25 17 2006 2010 St. Louis City
Nathan Ledale 21 16 2009 2011 St. Louis City
Hart Laron 21 17 2010 2011 St. Louis City
Olivas Reyes 20 16 2010 2012 Cass

CALLOUS ROBBERIES

In 1997, when Bostic was sentenced, juvenile crime — particularly with violence — had reached alarming levels across the nation.

Just a week earlier, then-President Bill Clinton announced a wide-ranging proposal to crack down on young offenders. Congress was moving toward stringent reforms.

“I remember this horrible shift where so many kids were getting certified (as adults) left and right and judges were really being harsh on those kids if they had jury trials,” said Trisha Harrison, an assistant law professor at St. Louis University who has represented Bostic on appeal.

She said many juveniles still chose trials, because prosecutors were not offering attractive plea deals.

The atmosphere, in and out of court, Harrison said, was “to really be fearful of juveniles and to take a stand and send a message.”

The robberies that sent Bostic and Hutson to prison were particularly callous.

Chris Pezzimenti, 26, handed over $500 before Bostic fired a bullet into his side, authorities said.

It was the same with Leo J. Matthew, 21, who was shot by Hutson after surrendering his wallet.

It was pure luck that the bulk of their winter coats protected them from more than the cold. Both walked away with barely a nick.

An hour later, the duo put guns to the head of a woman, 28, also delivering gifts, about a block away. Bostic drove her car while Hutson kept his gun on her. At one point, according to court records, Hutson reached into the woman’s pants, purportedly searching for money. Finally, at Bostic’s urging, they released her.

Defense attorney David Bruns, who represented Hutson, recalled, “It was rather notorious at the time because these people were just out delivering Christmas gifts to underprivileged people when they were assaulted and robbed.” he added, “I think, as defendants, these two were very much hated.”

A DEAL DECLINED

The late Richard Moran, Bostic’s attorney at the time, was known for getting good deals from prosecutors.

The offer to Bostic: He could plead guilty and serve a so-called “baby life” sentence, which amounts to 30 years.

Bostic refused, thinking he couldn’t get worse at trial.

When Baker sentenced Bostic, she remarked on his missed opportunity to accept guilt.

She noted his history of arrests: assault, for which he was on probation, and an array of juvenile offenses that had not been prosecuted. She reminded him that had the bullet strayed right or left, he might have been facing a death sentence, then still possible for juveniles.

Baker scolded him: “You don’t listen to anyone. You write me these letters. It’s the victims’ fault. It’s the police’s fault. It’s your mother’s fault.”

She sternly corrected Bostic: “It is your fault. You put yourself in the position to be standing in front of me facing 241 years in the Department of Corrections. You did it to yourself.”

Bostic pleaded with her, saying he had learned his lesson. His attorney urged that the jurors’ mix of 15- to 30-year sentences be calculated to run concurrently, to make the defendant eligible for parole in his mid-40s.

The prosecutor, Jeffrey Hilliard, now deceased, asked for the absolute maximum.

The judge, known for her forgiving sentences on many crimes, wasn’t feeling forgiveness this time.

“I feel nothing for you. I feel the same thing for you that you apparently felt for those victims and you feel for your family,” she said. “Everything is about Bobby. Bobby, Bobby, Bobby.”

Baker is now retired. Repeated attempts failed to reach her for comment.

Today, Bostic’s accomplice, Hutson, has trouble making sense of his friend’s sentence. Hutson took the same plea deal that Bostic turned down.

In an interview, Hutson admitted being the aggressor and instigator that night. He said he felt guilty because, “I put him in that predicament in the first place.”

Hutson said that if either of them should be serving a greater sentence, it should be himself.

“She went beyond making an example of him,” he said of the judge. “She took his life away.”

ROBBER’S REMORSE

Bostic now doesn’t blame anyone but himself.

VIDEO: Bostic talks about his sentence.

He agreed to an interview recently from the Crossroads Correctional Center, in Cameron, Mo., where almost 20 years into his sentence he has spent more time inside the bars than outside.

“You can’t blame anyone else. You have to face it,” he said. “You can change all you want, but you still did what you did.”

He acknowledged the good fortune that nobody was killed. Bostic said he thinks about it a lot.

“Those people didn’t deserve to be robbed like that,” he said. “... I regret that more than anything.”

Bostic grew up in north St. Louis, one of four children whose paths split. His older brother and sister were the good ones; not so for him and his younger brother, now deceased.

Bostic first used marijuana at age 10 and PCP a couple years later, according to court records. He started with alcohol at 12.

He had dropped out of school the year before the robbery, after a juvenile drug arrest. About the same time, his younger brother was shot and paralyzed in an apparent gang turf war.

Bostic’s family lived off welfare and food stamps.

“My mother, she tried, but at my age, I wouldn’t listen,” he said.

Childhood was a natural progression from small-time thefts to joyrides in stolen cars. The money went toward drugs. A gun was a necessity, for protection.

He and Hutson were not looking to rob anyone on the night in question, Bostic said. But then there was a car, loaded with gifts. And the victims were easy targets.

He said he shot Pezzimenti reflexively, partly out of fear. But he emphasized that was no excuse.

And he acknowledged that if he hadn’t caught, there would have been other crimes.

“Getting locked up, it didn’t save me but it taught me a lesson that I needed to be taught,” he said.

Still, he wishes he had taken the plea deal.

KILLER GETS REVIEW

Ledale Nathan grew up in the same crime-ridden part of the city as Bostic. He also was a juvenile when he made a life-altering decision to join an accomplice in robbing a home in 2009. They killed a mother of two and grievously wounded two others.

After a high-profile trial, Nathan was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to automatic life without parole for the crime.

Last month, Nathan was in front of a St. Louis jury for a redo.

He was the first in the state to get a resentencing hearing after the Miller ruling. New jurors heard about his childhood abuse, homelessness and relatives’ drug habits. They were asked to consider the influence of his older accomplice. A neuropsychologist testified of his diminished mental state.

At the end of it all, the jury was deadlocked. So a judge reduced the conviction to second-degree murder, and Nathan ended up with a series of 30-year terms. He may get out in 75 years.

So far, there have been only two other resentencings in Missouri under Miller, both prompted by unique procedural issues. Anthony Williams, of St. Louis, is free after 20 years in prison on time served for second-degree murder. Javon Adair, of St. Louis County, saw his first-degree murder sentence reduced to a 25-year sentence on second-degree murder.

Nathan’s case received quick consideration because his initial appeal options had not yet been exhausted when the Miller decision came down.

But there are still dozens of others awaiting a decision from the courts and legislature on whether the Miller ruling should apply to old cases too.

It’s a legal debate that is playing out across the country, and one of two challenges Bostic faces in his quest to have his sentence reconsidered. He also needs to convince a court that his 241 years are in effect no different from life in prison.

Bostic tried to make this argument in 2011, under the Graham decision, but the Missouri Supreme Court denied the petition without a hearing. Harrison said, “It was very frustrating and very shocking.”

State courts have been divided on whether the Graham and Miller decisions apply to cases such as Bostic’s. The U.S. Supreme Court has not provided any clarification.

‘CHANGED PERSON’

Joe Brozovich is a retired engineer from Springfield who got to know Bostic through a chess club. Bostic says Brozovich, whom he described as a law-and-order type, is an unexpected ally.

Brozovich said he didn’t see a distinction between Bostic’s plight and that of the juvenile lifers: “The Supreme Court decided it was cruel and unusual punishment. Well, so is this.”

“He deserves to be punished for what he did, and he has been,” Brozovich said. “For 19 years he’s been in prison. It’s seems like they should take into account his age when he was convicted and his behavior since he’s been in.”

Bostic, now 35, has used his time in prison to take several college-level courses and has mentored new prisoners. It helps him to remain hopeful.

He said he liked to think about what he would do if he ever got out. He says he wants to start a nonprofit, led by former lifers, focused on mentoring youth.

He also would like to speak to his victims.

What would he say? “That I’m a changed person and I hope one day they can forgive me.”

Bostic refused to speculate on what would be a just sentence for himself. He said he just wanted the same shot as others.

“I deserve to be punished for the crime — I’m guilty of the crime,” he said. “But I feel I should be getting a second chance.”

The victim who was reached by the Post-Dispatch said she had mixed feelings about Bostic and his 241 years.

“Do I think that number is fair? No,” she said, adding that she was “shocked” at the sentence’s length. “If other juveniles are being afforded that opportunity based on a Supreme Court decision, he should absolutely be afforded that opportunity.”

Still, she can’t shake a vivid image she has of Bostic in court, pretending to point a gun at one of the victims during his sentencing.

“He had already been in and out of juvenile system; he was a repeat offender,” she said. “The question for me is if he’s released and all he knows is crime, and almost all his life he’s been incarcerated and lived among criminals, if he gets out, what choices does he really have?”

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Jennifer S. Mann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Related to this story

About 7,000 prisoners in the United States got good news Friday from the U.S. Supreme Court in a majority ruling that struck down a portion of the three strikes federal sentencing law.

The opinion — in itself rare because it came on an 8-1 vote with Justice Samuel Alito dissenting — was overshadowed by blockbuster rulings on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage. Still, it has wide-ranging implications for federal sentencing guidlelines.

The Missouri criminal justice system is not prepared to cope with the possible repercussions of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether juvenile killers serving life sentences should be made eligible for parole.

The state has known for some time that this decision was a possibility but, unlike many other states which have done everything from abolishing juvenile life without parole to granting new sentencing hearings, Missouri is still in limbo.

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