COLUMBUS, Ohio – A 112-year prison sentence imposed on a convicted rapist for crimes he committed at age 15 is unconstitutional because it doesn't allow any opportunity for possible release, a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court's 4-3 ruling came in the case of Brandon Moore, who was tried as an adult and convicted in the 2001 armed kidnapping, robbery and gang rape of a 22-year-old Youngstown State University student.
The woman was abducted as she arrived for an evening work shift and was repeatedly raped at gunpoint by Moore and an accomplice before being released, according to court records. The decision returns the case to a county court to resentence Moore, now 29.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that teenagers may not be locked up for life without a chance of parole if they haven't killed anyone. The court said in the case of a Florida man serving time for armed robberies when he was a teen that the constitution requires young people serving life sentences to at least be considered for release and the chance of rehabilitation.
At issue was whether the ruling applied to Moore, whose prison term imposed in 2008 consists of multiple sentences stacked on top of one another.
Justice Paul Pfeifer, writing for the majority, cited the brutality of Moore's crime and noted that the facts "do not engender a sense of sympathy for him." Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling applies even to cases like Moore's, who would be 92 when first eligible for parole, Pfeifer said.
It "is clear that the court intended more than to simply allow juveniles-turned-nonagenarians the opportunity to breathe their last breaths as free people," Pfeifer said.
Justice Sharon Kennedy, writing for the minority, said Moore's sentence should stand because the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling didn't address stacked sentences. She also said the state appeals court that heard Moore's delayed request to overturn his sentence didn't have authority to do so.
"While I would gladly add my voice to the conversation supporting the creation of separate sentencing guidelines for juvenile offenders who are bound over to the adult system, I cannot join today's majority when there is no basis in law and when to do so, in my opinion, would violate the separation-of-powers doctrine," Kennedy wrote.
Prosecutors in Mahoning County argued the multiple sentences make Moore's punishment constitutional, even though they "may preclude the possibility of release during the juvenile offender's life," according to an August filing with the court.
Moore's lawyer said his punishment amounts to the same thing.
It "defies science and common sense to think that a 112-year sentence is anything but life without parole," Moore's attorneys argued in a court filing in July.
Ralph Rivera, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, said Thursday morning he was still reviewing the 77-page ruling. A message was left with Moore's lawyer.