New Sentences Ordered for Two Iowans Convicted as Teens
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Two prison inmates who were teenagers when they were involved in murders that netted both of them mandatory life sentences must be sentenced again, the Iowa Court of Appeals ordered Wednesday, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring such sentences for minors.
The Iowa court vacated the sentences of Christine Lockheart and Thomas Bennett, and sent both cases back to the lower court for resentencing. Lockheart and her boyfriend were convicted of stabbing to death a retired Davenport bus driver in 1985, while Bennett and two accomplices were convicted of fatally shooting a Des Moines man in 1998.
Lockheart and Bennett were both 17 at the time of their crimes. Each was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison without parole.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May threw out such mandatory sentences for juveniles. The ruling was in line with the court's previous decisions that juveniles couldn't automatically be punished the same way as adults without considering their age and other factors. The high court allowed individual judges to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole in murder cases, but ruled that state and federal laws couldn't automatically impose such a sentence.
In its Wednesday rulings, the Iowa appeals court noted those details of the Supreme Court's ruling and said mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lockheart's attorney, Gordon Allen, said he was "extremely pleased" and had not yet talked to Lockheart about the court's ruling.
"I think if she were sentenced, I think she would receive something substantially less than life even with parole. We'll be asking for the sentencing court to consider all the mitigating circumstances, of which I think there are many," he said.
Lockheart, who is now 42, has served 25 years in prison.
A message left for Bennett's attorney, Robert Ranschau, was not returned Wednesday afternoon.
The ruling was expected in light of the Supreme Court decision, Iowa Attorney General's Office spokesman Geoff Greenwood said.
"We're still evaluating our options, in terms of determining future sentences for these and other offenders," he added.
Lockheart and Bennett have both appealed their cases several times, including in 2010 when they argued that the sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Those appeals were pending when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in May.
"As soon as they ruled, I filled a motion for immediate reversal and a remand, which is exactly what they did," Allen said. "The (U.S. Supreme Court) decision came down on a Monday and I filed that on a Wednesday."
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