- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A jury on Friday vacated a 21-year-old man’s life sentence for a fatal shooting he committed as a teen.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (bit.ly/UhFe0F ) reported that the jury deliberated for about three hours before announcing it could not reach a unanimous decision on whether Ledale Nathan Jr. should again receive life without parole for the shooting death of a Gina Stallis, a 34-year-old mother of two. An off-duty police officer and a firefighter were also wounded in the October 2009 home invasion.

The jury vote means that Nathan’s conviction will be reduced to second-degree murder and a sentence of 10 to 30 years. But it doesn’t necessarily mean an early release: Nathan is already serving up to 75 years on other counts that still stand.

The Missouri Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Nathan after a 2012 U .S. Supreme Court decision declared automatic life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional. In Missouri, the automatic sentence for first-degree murder is either the death penalty or life without parole. But since the law doesn’t allow juveniles to get the death penalty, no other sentencing options were available before the federal court ruling.

Nathan now joins another man, Javon Adair, in having his life sentence reduced as a result. More than 80 other people convicted under similar circumstances in Missouri also are likely to face new sentencing hearings.

The jury in Nathan’s case was asked to consider whether the sentence of life without parole was “just and appropriate.” They were instructed to consider factors like his background and state of mind, as well as the influence of the defendant’s accomplice, Mario Coleman, the 22-year-old gunman. Coleman’s sentence is not being reconsidered because he was an adult at the time.

In her closing arguments, Assistant Circuit Attorney Beth Orwick told jurors to focus on the choices made by Nathan. She said he was the one ordering the family members around, pressing a gun against a 78-year-old grandmother’s forehead.

“You act like a man, you get punished like a man,” she said.

Nathan’s attorney, Robert Steele, repeatedly emphasized his client’s age at the time of the crime. He talked about how Nathan was raised by a mother addicted to crack cocaine and a physically abusive father. The family was homeless at times, with the children often left to fend for themselves.

“It’s a very simple choice: What do you do to a kid,” Steele said.

Stallis’ son, Sam Nerriani, testified for the first time in the two criminal cases involving his mother’s death. The 14-year-old said he has since suffered from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder and worst of all, “can’t remember my Mom’s voice anymore.”

The trauma prompted Isabella Lovadina, who was shot five times, to leave her job as a city police officer. Nick Koenig, shot three times, turned to substance abuse to cope, lost his job as a firefighter and spent winters living on the streets, according to court testimony.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com


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