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Hearings to Resentence Juvenile Lifers Put on Hold

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) A lawsuit filed by 14 Nebraska prison inmates serving life for crimes they committed as juveniles will now take months, if not years, to wend through the courts.

The lawsuit filed Nov. 29 in Douglas County seeks to stop the Nebraska pardons board from resentencing the inmates, in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated life-without-parole prison terms for juveniles. A lawyer for the prisoners has said the pardons board wants to impose new sentences that would effectively keep the offenders in prison for the rest of their lives.

A day after the lawsuit was filed, a Douglas County judge issued an order to temporarily halt the early December hearings until the case was resolved. The pardons board asked the state Supreme Court to step in immediately and the hearings were canceled.

But the court declined to intervene right away, choosing instead to have state attorneys and the inmates' lawyer argue the case in lower courts, according to a ruling released Thursday.

The pardons board is made up of Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning and Secretary of State John Gale.

In a statement Thursday, Bruning called on lawmakers to address the issue when they convene next year. Advocates for the inmates have said they're worried that Bruning will propose new sentencing laws in his annual legislative package, laws that would violate the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.

Bruning spokeswoman Shannon Kingery refused Friday to elaborate on the attorney general's statement, saying he would introduce a series of bills on Jan. 9.

Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley argued that the Pardons Board does not have jurisdiction to commute the sentences, because the inmates do not have pending requests for them to do so.

The lawsuit also argues that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidates the prisoners' sentences, meaning the Pardons Board has no constitutionally valid sentences to commute.

A phone message left Friday with Riley's office was not immediately returned.

In July, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the life-without-parole sentences of 38 convicted killers. Branstad's order made the inmates eligible for parole, but only after they had served 60 years in prison.

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