Man at Center of SCOTUS Case Gets Parole After 57 Years

Henry Montgomery, 75, killed a deputy in Louisiana when he was 17
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 17, 2021 6:45 PM CST
Man at Center of SCOTUS Case Gets Parole After 57 Years
In this February 1964 photo, Henry Montgomery, flanked by two deputies, awaits the verdict in his trial for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Charles H. Hurt in Louisiana.   (John Boss/The Advocate via AP, File)

(Newser) – After spending nearly six decades behind bars, the Louisiana inmate whose Supreme Court case was instrumental in extending the possibility of freedom to hundreds of people sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity for parole when they were juveniles was freed on parole Wednesday. From the AP:

  • Freed hours after decision. Henry Montgomery, 75, was released from prison just hours after the parole board's decision and went to the offices of the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit that is supporting him after his release, the AP reports. There he was embraced by tearful staff and former juvenile lifers who were freed as a result of the court case that bears Montgomery's name.

  • He was sentenced to death in 1963. Montgomery had been convicted in the 1963 killing of East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy Charles Hurt, who caught him skipping school. Montgomery was 17 at the time. He was initially sentenced to death, but the state’s Supreme Court threw out his conviction in 1966, saying he didn’t get a fair trial. The case was retried, Montgomery convicted again but this time sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • Two pivotal SCOTUS cases. Montgomery's release owes back to two specific Supreme Court cases. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentencing of life without parole for juvenile offenders was "cruel and unusual" punishment. But it didn't settle the question of whether that decision applied retroactively or only to cases going forward. In 2016, the Supreme Court settled the matter when it took up Montgomery's case and extended its decision on such sentences to people already in prison.

  • Application was rejected twice. The decision ushered in a wave of new sentences and the release of inmates from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Arkansas and beyond. But until Wednesday, Montgomery remained in prison. After the Supreme Court decision, he was resentenced in 2017 to life with parole. The state judge who resentenced Montgomery called him a "model prisoner" who appears to be rehabilitated. But then the parole board rejected his application two times, the most recent rejection coming in 2019.
  • Decision was unanimous. A three-member board voted unanimously in favor of parole. Due to the pandemic, the meeting was held on Zoom with Montgomery appearing on camera at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he has spent his entire adult life. "He’s been in prison for 57 years. He has an excellent ... disciplinary record. He is a low risk by our assessment. He’s got good comments from the warden," said board member Tony Marabella.
  • "It feels so wonderful." Montgomery told the AP that it feels "wonderful" to be free. When asked what he plans to do now that he is out of prison, Montgomery said he wanted to pay his respects to his mother, grandmother, and other family members who died when he was behind bars. "I destroyed my life, they life and the people that I hurt," referring to his own family and that of the slain deputy's.
(Read more life sentence stories.)

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