Henry Montgomery on the time of his arrest in 1963 /Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, courtesy of the Juvenile Justice Info Trade
In 2016, Henry Montgomery received a landmark Supreme Courtroom case that gave him and hundreds of different inmates hope for a second likelihood. The 72-year-old was locked up in Louisiana on the age of 17 for killing a sheriff’s deputy, and he was sentenced to life in jail with out the opportunity of parole. The courtroom dominated that as a result of he was a child on the time of his crime, the state ought to revisit his case and contemplate granting him a brand new sentence; it ordered different states to do the identical for the roughly 2,800 juvenile lifers serving necessary prisons phrases throughout the nation.
Since then, greater than 450 of them have been launched. However not Montgomery. On Thursday he was denied parole for a second time, leaving the septuagenarian on the identical jail the place he has been incarcerated for 55 years.
In 1963, Montgomery, a black teenager, was enjoying hooky from college when he bumped into Charles Damage, a white sheriff’s deputy investigating a theft grievance. After the deputy tried to detain him, Montgomery pulled out a pistol and shot him. He was initially despatched to loss of life row, however a courtroom later gave him a compulsory sentence of life with out the opportunity of parole as a result of racial tensions had been so excessive throughout his trial. A long time later, in 2016, the Supreme Courtroom stated Louisiana ought to revisit his sentence once more—in 2012, the courtroom had dominated that necessary life-without-parole phrases like his have been unconstitutional for teen offenders as a result of their brains weren’t absolutely developed on the time of their crimes, and since they possessed a lot potential for development and alter. “Prisoners like Montgomery have to be given the chance to point out their crime didn’t replicate irreparable corruption,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for almost all. “If it didn’t, their hope for some years of life exterior jail partitions have to be restored.”
In 2018, Montgomery went earlier than the Louisiana parole board for the primary time, but it surely stated he had not participated in sufficient instructional applications to justify his launch. On Thursday, it rejected him once more for a similar cause. “It’s your accountability to proceed to work,” one of many parole board members reportedly instructed Montgomery through the listening to, which Montgomery watched by way of a video name from Louisiana’s Angola jail, with a warden stepping in at one level to regulate his listening to help so he might observe the dialog. The criticism hit onerous, as a result of for his first three many years at Angola, Montgomery and different lifers have been denied entry to instructional applications. After that, he tried to earn his GED, however he struggled with the coursework and was ultimately deemed ineligible. Years earlier, when he was a younger man, psychologists estimated throughout one in all his trials that he had an IQ within the 70s.
Nonetheless, Montgomery labored to redeem himself in different methods. He went to church and signed up for Alcoholics Nameless, although he didn’t have a substance abuse drawback, as a result of it was one of many few self-help teams out there to him. He began a jail boxing membership and helped manage a literacy program so incarcerated folks might write dwelling to their households. After extra applications opened as much as him, he took anger administration and sufferer consciousness courses, and he discovered a steady job within the silk-screen store, the place he received worker of the month a number of instances. “Henry did all the pieces that was out there to him,” says Kerry Myers of the Louisiana Parole Challenge, which has labored with Montgomery and different juvenile lifers to organize their reentry plans. Montgomery additionally stayed out of bother in jail, racking up disciplinary violations solely 23 instances over the course of 55 years, and simply twice through the previous 17 years—as soon as for smoking in an unauthorized area, and once more for not placing his garments away correctly.
Complicating his case is the truth that his sufferer’s members of the family are not looking for him paroled. Becky Wilson, who was 9 years previous when he killed her father, visited Montgomery in jail and forgave him, however she and her siblings have stated they consider he ought to stay behind bars till he dies. “I need you to present him the identical consideration he gave my father and my household,” she instructed the parole board final yr, in line with the Advocate. Her sister, Linda Damage Wooden, reiterated this sentiment Thursday: “Mr. Montgomery acquired a life sentence and so did we,” she stated. “I’ll by no means have my father again.”
“I do know I dedicated the crime,” Montgomery stated through the listening to. “I’m sorry all this occurred…I’m simply sorry.”
Montgomery’s Supreme Courtroom case was a watershed second for the nation’s 2,800 juvenile lifers. On the time, roughly 70 % of them have been folks of coloration, and plenty of had been locked up through the “superpredator” scare of the 1990s. The justices argued that life-without-parole sentences must be reserved just for the “rarest of juvenile offenders,” individuals who might by no means be rehabilitated. Due to this, greater than 1,850 juvenile lifers nationally have had their sentenced shortened, both by decrease courts or state legislatures. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have banned life with out parole for youths in all circumstances, and one other six states have no one serving this sentence.
However not all states have been so forgiving. Of the juvenile lifers in 2016, just one in 6 have been freed, in line with the Marketing campaign for the Truthful Sentencing of Youth, an advocacy group. In some locations, prosecutors have argued they need to stay in jail for good, or that they need to wait longer earlier than their launch.
And relying on the state, parole hearings can appear stacked towards them: Maryland, Missouri, New York, Iowa, Michigan, and Florida are dealing with lawsuits as a result of parole boards have made it so onerous for juvenile lifers to get out. “Some [boards] are nonetheless rubber-stamping denials due to the character of the crime,” says Jody Kent Lavy of the Marketing campaign for the Truthful Sentencing of Youth, who notes that the majority lifers have been convicted of murder. “It’s clearly problematic if parole boards are solely trying on the crimes and never considering the rehabilitation these folks have demonstrated.
“Mr. Montgomery’s freedom is lengthy overdue,” she added. “The truth that he has served effectively over 5 many years in jail for against the law he dedicated as a teen, regardless of proof he was rehabilitated way back, is nothing in need of inhumane.”
Louisiana had one of many nation’s greatest juvenile lifer populations on the time of the 2016 Supreme Courtroom ruling—roughly 300 lifers in all. Since then, prosecutors within the state have argued that a couple of third of them are the uncommon kind of offender who deserves to be locked up for good and by no means obtain the opportunity of parole. The remainder had their sentences modified by a 2017 state regulation and might go in entrance of a parole board after serving 25 years in jail, assuming they meet sure standards like a low disciplinary report and sufficient expertise with rehabilitative applications. Roughly a dozen of them have been denied parole, estimates Myers of the Louisiana Parole Challenge. A couple of dozen have been launched.
Montgomery, in the meantime, approaches his 73rd birthday at Angola. His legal professionals have pledged to proceed preventing for his freedom. “If he dies in jail, which he doesn’t wish to, then he is aware of that at the very least his case may have modified issues for others, it would have created alternatives for different folks,” says Myers. “He will get some consolation in that.”