Crime

At 16, he got 241 years for robbery, kidnapping in Missouri. Leaders call for release

Bobby Bostic was sentenced to more than two centuries in prison for crimes he committed at 16. Now, criminal justice leaders across the country have implored the U.S. Supreme Court to show him clemency.
Bobby Bostic was sentenced to more than two centuries in prison for crimes he committed at 16. Now, criminal justice leaders across the country have implored the U.S. Supreme Court to show him clemency. Missouri Department of Corrections

Even the judge who sentenced Bobby Bostic to 241 years in prison for robbery, kidnapping and other crimes regrets her decision.

More than 20 years after telling a teenaged Bostic that he would "die in the Department of Corrections," retired Missouri circuit court judge Evelyn Baker wrote last month that Bostic should be given a chance at freedom.

"I see now that this kind of sentence is as benighted as it is unjust. But Missouri and a handful of other states still allow such sentences," Baker wrote in The Washington Post.

On Thursday, Baker's call was amplified by 75 leaders in the criminal justice community — including former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr and former FBI Director William Webster — who joined together to call on the U.S. Supreme Court to grant clemency in Bostic's centuries-long sentence.

The leaders wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court that Bostic's sentence violates his Eighth Amendment right protecting him against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that juveniles sentenced for crimes other than murder must have "some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."

Bostic, now 39, doesn't have such an opportunity under his current sentence, they wrote.

"Bostic was immature, and I punished him for that," wrote Baker, the judge. "But to put him, and children like him, in prison for life without any chance of release, no matter how they develop over time, is unfair, unjust and, under the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, unconstitutional."

Baker added that the Supreme Court's decision was guided by evolving science showing teens' brains do not assess consequences like adults, and thus should be given an opportunity to reform.

Bostic was convicted of kidnapping and multiple counts of robbery, armed criminal action and assault in St. Louis. Bostic committed the crimes with an 18-year-old. A gun was fired, causing a grazing injury to one of the victims.

Bostic is not eligible for parole until he's 112 years old. He's currently being held in the Jefferson City Correctional Center, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections website.

The American Civil Liberties Union writes that Bostic's case hinges on whether a sentence that is a term of years, rather than life without parole, bypasses the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling.

"It is a mere formality that the sentence issued in this case has an end date, because whether it’s 112 years or life without parole, the result is the same for this juvenile — death in prison,” said Clifford M. Sloan, one of the authors of the brief.

Tony Rothert, the legal director for the ACLU of Missouri, added, "The Supreme Court ... ruled that life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. Mr. Bostic should be no exception."

Under current Missouri law, according to the brief, "a juvenile offender sentenced to life without parole on any count — including murder — is automatically eligible for parole after 25 years," but a juvenile offender sentenced like Bostic is doomed to effectively spend the rest of his life in prison.

The brief calls on the Supreme Court to give Bostic a chance to rejoin society because, as a juvenile who committed crimes, he has a "unique capacity to reform."

The brief was authored by attorneys Sloan and Brendan B. Gants. Fair and Just Prosecution, a national network of prosecutors seeking innovation, coordinated the effort.

Read more about the case on the ACLU's website.

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