Juvenile lifers

Lakeland Correctional Facility

 

(Editor’s Note: We recommend you listen to this story.)

Mark Smith was 17 when he shot and killed another teenager. He got the mandatory sentence – life without parole. But that didn’t mean Mark stopped living life.

Twenty years into his incarceration, Mark started corresponding with a straight-laced, Canadian woman named Dawn Dietrich. 

 

(Editor’s note: we recommend you listen to this story.) 

Jose Burgos was 16 years old when he shot and killed Omar Kaji. It happened during a bogus drug deal in 1991 in southwest Detroit. 

“The whole plan was, we’re going to make it look like – from the outside looking in – there’s 10 pounds of marijuana in this bag,” says Jose.

Hundreds of juveniles in Michigan have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now they have a chance at freedom.

Wayne County has more than 150 juvenile lifers, by far the most in the state. As of today, only one of them – and, in fact, the only person among the more than 360 juvenile lifers in the entire state of Michigan – has been given that second chance. 

On June 4, 1975, 17-year-old William Washington and his 26-year-old co-defendant, Kenneth Rucker, robbed a record store. After a scuffle with the store owner, Mr. Rucker took the victim into the back room and shot him to death. This incident led to Washington receiving a life without parole sentence for first degree murder, as well as a second life sentence for armed robbery, for his role as an aider and abettor.

On November 17th of this year – 41 years after he went to prison – William Washington became a free man. 
 

Washington and his mother Lizzie Young joined us in the studio.

 

The 2012 Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama held that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional.

Michigan prosecutors have come under national scrutiny for what critics have argued is an effort to ignore, or at least slowly comply with, the recent Supreme Court rulings that require all juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole to have their sentences reconsidered.

All this week, we’re looking at juvenile lifers in Michigan -- those inmates sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were minors.

Michigan ranks second in the number of prisoners who fit this classification. There are more than 360 juvenile lifers in Michigan, and a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases has meant that Michigan has to take a second look at the sentences these inmates were given.