- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Lawyers say a man at the center of a Supreme Court case on mandatory life sentences for juveniles is free after 30 years.

In 1985, George Toca , then 17, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of a friend during a botched armed robbery. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that judges and juries must take into account age when sentencing people who were younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. Unresolved was whether that decision could be used to seek new sentences in closed cases.

The justices agreed last month to hear Toca’s case.

However, 47-year-old Toca, pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter and armed robbery. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said he will join in a motion by Toca’s attorneys to withdraw the Supreme Court case.

Cannizzaro and lawyers for The Innocence Project, an organization that fights what it deems wrongful convictions, said the manslaughter plea was a “best interest” plea in which Toca does not admit guilt but agrees that the plea would be in his best interest.

Prosecutors said Toca accidentally shot his friend Eric Batiste, 16, during the 1984 robbery. Toca has long maintained his innocence in the crimes.

“George Toca is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and those to which he pled guilty today,” The Innocence Project said in a news release. “Mr. Toca has served almost 31 years wrongly imprisoned. It is understandable and appropriate that he chose certain release from Angola prison over the uncertainty of continuing his legal fight.”

That release also said that Batiste’s family members fully support Toca’s release.


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