BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A 71-year-old prisoner who was 17 when he killed a sheriff’s deputy learned Wednesday that he will get a chance at parole, 54 years after the killing and a year after winning his appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Calling Henry Montgomery a “model prisoner” who had been rehabilitated behind bars, District Judge Richard D. Anderson resentenced Montgomery to life with the possibility of parole.
Anderson changed Montgomery’s life-without-parole sentence after the nation’s high court ruled in Montgomery’s favor in January 2016. The high court said its prior ruling against automatic juvenile no-parole sentences should be applied retroactively.
“The court understands the defendant’s (prior) sentence was fair, however … the court has to follow the current law,” Anderson said. “He does not appear to be someone who the Supreme Court would classify as ‘irreparably corrupt.’ … He’s been a mentor, he’s helped others and, from all indications, he does appear to be rehabilitated.”
Montgomery was in chains inside the courtroom as Anderson gave his ruling. He was then quickly escorted out.
“Mr. Montgomery is certainly happy with the judge’s ruling, but he very much still grieves for the victim’s family and the impact this has had on them,” defense attorney Lindsay Blouin said.
Montgomery fatally shot East Baton Rouge Parish Deputy Charles Hurt in a Baton Rouge park in 1963. Montgomery was playing hooky from school and Hurt was on truant patrol. Montgomery’s attorneys’ called their client’s action a “terrible, split-second decision made a by a scared 17-year-old boy.”
He originally received a death sentence, but it was overturned in 1966. He was re-tried, convicted and sentenced to life without parole in 1969.
Montgomery’s immediate relatives have since died, but his younger cousin Debra Ephraim was in the hearing and tearfully thanked Blouin outside the courtroom.
Ephraim was around 11 when her cousin was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. For decades, she’s visited him frequently. She remembers him as a “big brother” who would show her around their grandparents’ farm.
Montgomery’s defense attorneys had argued that their client was far from the “worst of the worst” and could actually be considered the “best of the best.” Montgomery has had a near-spotless disciplinary record inside Angola and has been a mentor for others, especially those involved in the boxing program, his attorneys said.
“For the last 54 years he did all of these things without any thought that it would ever change the fact that he would die in Angola one day,” Blouin said.
The Supreme Court voted 6-3 in Montgomery v. Louisiana to extend a 2012 ruling that struck down automatic life terms with no chance of parole for teenage killers. The ruling meant that even those convicted long ago must be considered for parole or given a new sentence.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, said “prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”
Because of the court’s decision, the Louisiana Legislature this month changed the law to give some inmates who committed murder as teenagers a chance for parole after 25 years.