Key inmate released in debate over life imprisonment for minors without parole in the US

Louisiana officials granted parole Wednesday to Henry Montgomery, whose case in the Supreme Court was instrumental in extending the possibility of releasing hundreds of people sentenced to life imprisonment without the opportunity for parole when they were minors.

Montgomery, 75, was released from prison shortly after the decision.

He had been convicted of the murder in 1963 from East Baton Rouge Deputy Sheriff Charles Hurt, who caught him skipping school. Montgomery was 17 at the time. He was initially sentenced to death, but the state Supreme Court threw out his conviction in 1966, saying he did not get a fair trial.

The case was re-tried, Montgomery was sentenced again, but this time he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He served decades in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

A three-member board voted unanimously in favor of parole. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the meeting was held at Zoom with Montgomery appearing on camera at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where he has spent his entire adult life.

“He has been in prison for 57 years. He has an excellent … disciplinary record. It is a low risk according to our assessment. He has good comments from the warden. He has a very good prison record, ”board member Tony Marabella said as he voted to approve Montgomery’s release under certain conditions, including a curfew and that he has no contact with the victim’s family.

Montgomery’s release stems from two specific Supreme Court cases. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders was a “cruel and unusual” punishment. But it did not resolve the question of whether that decision applied retroactively or only to cases in the future.

In 2016, the Supreme Court settled the matter when it took the Montgomery case and extended its decision on such sentences to people already in prison.

The decision marked the beginning of a wave of new sentences and the release of Michigan inmates to Pennsylvania, Arkansas and beyond. But, until Wednesday, Montgomery remained in prison.