- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Two men who have spent nearly 40 years in prison following their conviction in killing a woman as teenagers are set to appear in court next month for resentencing.

Frederick Pennington and Billy Ray Hale, both now 54 years old, were sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in the 1977 death of Uvil May Ussery and other charges in several other separate crimes, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1M8fOej ) reported.

They fought their sentences, contending their lawyers had bullied or tricked them into pleading guilty with the promise of early release. Pennington, who denies killing 64-year-old Ussery, claimed his attorney said he would have to serve only seven years in prison even if he received a life sentence.

The two men’s efforts were unsuccessful until October, when the Arkansas Supreme Court determined their sentences were invalid.

The state Supreme Court found the order sentencing the two had promised them eligibility for parole when Arkansas life sentences have not allowed for any parole since 1969. It remanded the men back to trial court for resentencing, and they’re set to appear in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Oct. 12.

The men also will receive the benefit of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said youth offenders can’t be sentenced to life without parole. Prosecutors have asked for a 50-year sentence, which they say will satisfy the federal high court’s sentencing standards.

The Oct. 12 hearing date comes near the anniversary of Ussery’s slaying on Oct. 22, 1977. Authorities say she had just arrived home from work, when she was shot by a robber who had tried to take her purse.

The robber fled in a car with two other people inside. Police identified Pennington as the killer, and Hale as the driver.

Police say the two, who were then 16 years old, robbed a couple at gunpoint the night after the killing. They also were charged in the shooting of a store clerk in the chest during an August 1977 holdup at a convenience store.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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