- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A man sentenced to life without parole for a murder committed when he was 16-years-old should get a new sentencing hearing because the judge didn’t address issues that might have warranted a lesser penalty for a juvenile, North Carolina’s Court of Appeals ruled in a decision released Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Jahrheel Ikle May should get a new sentencing hearing for the January 2013 murder of Anthony Johnson, 36, in Greenville.

“Convictions of juveniles for first-degree murder are rare, and within that pool of eligible juveniles who have committed these crimes, sentences of imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole should be ‘uncommon’ as well, if our courts are to comply with the law …” Appeals Court Judge Donna Stroud wrote in a concurring opinion.

May was sentenced in July 2015, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges must consider how juveniles differ from adults before sentencing them to spending the rest of their lives behind bars. In addition to life without parole for the first-degree murder conviction, he was sentenced to up to 89 months behind bars for attempted armed robbery.

May’s guidance counselor, an assistant principal, a retired pastor who was also a correctional officer, along with May’s parents and grandmother testified on his behalf at his sentencing hearing. They said he was popular at school, an athlete, an honors student taking advanced courses and “a good kid.”

The Appeals Court said Superior Court Judge Russell Duke Jr. didn’t address those mitigating factors when he sentenced may. The three judges said they were also ordering the new sentencing hearing because Duke waited almost a month - and after May had filed an appeal - to enter findings to support the sentence of life without parole.

Mitigating factors include the defendant’s age at the time of the offense, prior record, mental health and peer pressure, but Stroud wrote that she’s “not sure that anyone understands” what should be considered mitigating factors.

For example, it could be a mitigating factor that a defendant has done well in school because that shows he has the potential to improve. Or it could mean he had the intellectual capacity to better understand the risks than others of the same age would, she wrote.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole for juveniles in murder cases. Last year, the court made its ruling retroactive, saying the more than 2,000 already serving such sentences must get a chance to show their crimes did not reflect “irreparable corruption” and, if not, have a chance at parole.

The Associated Press recently completed a 50-state survey of juveniles sentenced to life without parole, finding an uneven patchwork of responses to the two court decisions.

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Follow Martha Waggoner at https://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc


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