The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has conceded that a judge resentencing "juvenile lifers" may impose a minimum sentence lower than the 35 years that the office has been offering in such cases.
The possibility was raised as the office agreed to move ahead with resentencing for Kempis Songster, 44, who is serving life without parole for a murder he committed in 1987 at age 15.
An openly frustrated U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage--who ordered a new sentence for Songster four years ago, and again in August with a 120-day deadline--said the office's policy of offering all inmates the same deal for a new sentence was inconsistent with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that put back into play about 300 murder cases in Philadelphia involving juveniles.
Savage's Aug. 17 order had urged resentencings in which a judge would have discretion to impose "individualized, proportionate sentences," take into consideration an inmate's rehabilitation, and impose a maximum of life only in "the rarest of permanently incorrigible" cases.
"Here's the problem that I have," Savage told Assistant District Attorney Susan Affronti. "If you're saying you have all these offers out, it seems you're treating all of these folks the same way - 35 years to life. I don't get that. That to me appears to show a lack of due diligence, of looking at each case individually. I understand you want to do this for policy reasons. Maybe because it looks good."
Songster's case and others are back in the courts as a consequence of Montgomery v. Louisiana, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that made retroactive the court's ban on automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. The ruling affects about 2,300 cases nationwide, about 500 of which are in Pennsylvania - including about 300 in Philadelphia.
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