Juvenile Decertification

Attorney Steve Townsend represented Deontae Jones in this case and was the only lawyer who successfully argued to have his client’s case decertified back to juvenile court.  It took a great amount of effort and time, but as you can see, those efforts paid off.

The incident was a great tragedy, but hopefully it sends a message to others.

 

Lawrence “Pooh Rat” Reddick Jr. was found guilty Monday morning of first- and second-degree murder, robbery in 2016 Aliquippa double homicide.

BEAVER — The gallery of a Beaver County courtroom maintained a level of stoicism as a jury foreperson rendered its verdict Monday morning, convicting 19-year-old Lawrence “Pooh Rat” Reddick Jr. of first- and second-degree murder.

Some soft cries were heard from members of the victims’ families. Reddick himself showed little emotion as the verdict was read.

Reddick was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 18-year-old Dane Mathesius, of Brighton and New Sewickley townships, and second-degree murder of William Cade Booher, 16, of Beaver.

He also was found guilty of robbery, conspiracy, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and carrying a firearm without a license.

The jury returned after about 12 hours of deliberations, having worked out a proclaimed “impasse” that was reached Friday afternoon.

At that time, the jury told the court it was “at an 11 to 1 impasse” because one juror was “not following the definition of reasonable doubt.” The jury said the unidentified juror was looking for a 100 percent certainty in determining a verdict.

In response, Beaver County Judge Kim Tesla reread to the jury the definition of what beyond a reasonable doubt means. He sent them back to continue discussions.

Jurors were dismissed at about 5 p.m. Friday and returned at 9 a.m. Monday. The verdict was rendered at about 10 a.m.

The jury foreperson fought tears as the conviction was read. Upon request of the defense, the jurors were polled, each of them agreeing to the conviction.

“There were tears,” District Attorney David Lozier said after the verdict. “The foreman of the jury had difficulty reading the verdict slip. They obviously took this very seriously and have respect for the process.”

He thanked the jury for its time and commitment to the case.

“They came back with a very courageous verdict, a first-degree homicide verdict in this kind of circumstance is hard, it takes a lot of courage for a jury to come back with a first-degree homicide verdict,” Lozier said.

A sentencing date for Reddick has yet to be set. Because he was a juvenile at the time of the homicide, Reddick does not qualify for an automatic sentence of life imprisonment for the conviction of first-degree murder. His sentence will be left to the decision of Tesla, who presided over the trial.

Co-defendant Ronald “Reno” Foster, 19, was tried in August and was found guilty of third-degree murder. He was sentenced to serve between 34 and 70 years in prison.

Deontae Jones, 19, who testified in the case, also was charged in the shooting. He pleaded to a count of conspiracy to commit robbery in juvenile court and is awaiting sentencing.

All three teens were 17 years old at the time of the incident.

Lozier said the double homicide impacted families across Beaver County, including the families of the three defendants.

“We can’t forget the fact that we have two dead children and a third 13-year-old boy that watched this happen in the car,” he said. “It also impacted the families of Aliquippa. This impacted six families in a devastating way. There are no winners.”

Lozier also said Reddick’s conviction will bring some closure to the families of Mathesius, Booher and the 13-year-old witness, many of whom witnessed the entire Reddick trial, as well as the trial against Foster.

“There were always questions as to whether or not the community would take this loss seriously enough, and I think this verdict answers that question,” Lozier said.

Juvenile Lifer Injustice

Juvenile Injustice

Juvenile Lifer Injustice

You may be surprised to learn that some courts are applying a 2012 sentencing statute while sentencing juvenile lifers who were convicted prior to the enactment of the law.  The statute specifically states that it only applies to those convicted after 2012.  So how can a juvenile lifer be sentenced under that particular sentencing scheme?  It’s happening, but it isn’t happening with uniformity.  

In Allegheny County the District Attorney’s Office is taking a hard line.  They are not negotiating with any juvenile lifer regardless of the circumstances.  Every juvenile lifer will receive either a maximum term of life or a term of life without parole.  This is not the case in other counties across our state.  Why, because there is no sentencing scheme enacted to provide the courts with guidance.

Representing criminal defendants and juvenile lifer clients is a very difficult job.  The job becomes even more difficult when our laws are not applied equally or are applied retroactively.  This is a prime example of why clients get so frustrated when I tell them that “This is the law, but this is what happens”.  

The fight for Mr. Cristina is not over for me.  My court appointment to represent him as a juvenile lifer may be over, but I’m not throwing in the towel.  I strongly believe that the sentence he received was illegal and that the court had the ability and discretion to sentence him, or any juvenile lifer prior to 2012, to a term of time served.  

There are hundreds of juvenile lifer cases in Pennsylvania and thousands across the country.  Hopefully our Supreme Court will one day address how courts handle the mandatory “life” tail that is being imposed as a mandatory juvenile lifer sentence.  

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Sentenced to life at 17, Pittsburgh man now 57 could be out in months

 

Jeffrey Cristina has spent 14,803 days in jail or prison since his arrest and conviction for second-degree murder at 17, and will spend at least a few more months awaiting parole.

Cristina, 57, was one of about 480 Pennsylvania inmates eligible for resentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory sentences of life without parole were unconstitutional for all juveniles sentenced as adults. On Wednesday, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani gave him a new sentence of 20 years to life, making him immediately eligible for parole but waiting to move through that process.

“He’s done everything society asked him to do, and then some,” Mariani said.

Mariani said that given Cristina’s spotless record over more than four decades in prison, he would have considered releasing him Wednesday with time served, but a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling indicated that for former “juvenile lifers,” the sentence has to include an upper limit of life in prison.

On the stand, Cristina testified that he had held several jobs in prison mentoring juvenile convicts and helping them send books and messages to their families; he earned professional licenses and accreditations; and held positions of trust that let him do odd jobs outside prison walls.

Cristina and two co-defendants were charged with homicide for the December 1975 robbery of Frank Slazinski, 83, in his Lawrenceville apartment over $15 and a portable television. Slazinski, who was recovering from another robbery days earlier, died four days after the attack from a broken windpipe and pneumonia, according to newspaper accounts at the time.

Cristina said one of his co-defendants had been bullying him and his family since they moved from Brookline to Lawrenceville in his parents’ divorce, and he went along with the robbery in the hope that it would offer some relief from the torment.

“I’m sorry for what happened to Mr. Slazinski and his family,” he said. “At the time, I wasn’t strong enough physically or mentally to handle that situation.”

Deputy District Attorney Ronald Wabby Jr. said his office tried to find members of Slazinski’s family to testify about the impact the crime had on them but could not reach anyone after so long.

Cristina’s family members who testified on his behalf said they were disappointed in Mariani’s ruling, having hoped for immediate release.

“The family is fighting over who would get him first,” said his niece, Heather Taylor. “I hope the parole board will see everything he’s done over the last 40 years and let him come home and have some kind of life.”

She said she is concerned the parole process would be dragged out and delay her uncle’s release for months or years. Steve Townsend, Cristina’s attorney, said the parole process could start in December at the earliest. He called Cristina, Taylor and Cristina’s brother to testify and submitted his client’s letters of recommendation — including a 1993 recommendation for commuting his sentence that was dropped in the change of administrations between Govs. Bob Casey and Tom Ridge — as evidence to be considered by the parole board later.

“In his case, his turnaround time should be much quicker than everyone else,” Townsend said.

Cristina is among the first of about 40 juvenile lifers convicted in Allegheny County to be resentenced. Judge Donna Jo McDaniel this month sentenced Kristopher Heggins, now 36, to 30 years to life, with credit for the 16 years he’s served since his conviction for second-degree murder in the 1997 killing of a minister in Highland Park.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

 

Judge keeps one of Pennsylvania’s ‘juvenile lifers’ in prison, reluctantly

 

By Karen Kane / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani couldn’t have made it more clear Wednesday morning: He believes Jeffrey Cristina — one of Pennsylvania’s so-called “juvenile lifers” — should be released immediately from prison. But the judge essentially bumped the case to the state Board of Pardons, saying he believes that the controlling law in Pennsylvania prevents him from doing what he’d really like to do.

Cristina slowly shook his bowed head in apparent disappointment. And perhaps disbelief.

“We really thought he’d be coming home today,” said Cristina’s niece, Heather Taylor of Harrison, sobbing after the hourlong hearing.

She wasn’t alone. Many in the crowded courtroom were shedding tears, including some who were apparent strangers.

Cristina, 57, has been in prison since 1976, after he was convicted of second-degree murder in the beating death of an elderly man. He denies he participated in the beating and the judge acknowledged “there’s a lot of dispute” about Cristina’s role in the death.

Jeffrey Cristina

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But, Judge Mariani noted, that is largely irrelevant to his judicial assessment of the situation: In sum, the judge said he believes that Cristina’s original sentence as a 17-year-old to “life without parole” is unconstitutional.

Further, he said that in his 36-year legal career — including 11 years on the bench — he never has seen anyone with as good a prison record as Cristina’s, calling him an ideal convict who hasn’t had a single infraction, who has taken advantage of every educational program available to him, and who has worked as mentor and tutor to other prisoners during the past four decades.

And the judge noted that in 1993, the state Board of Pardons unanimously recommended commutation for Cristina. But, it was denied by former Gov. Bob Casey.

Judge Mariani appeared to be frustrated.

“I wish I had the ability to sentence him to time served … I have to abide by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” he said, referring to a 2013 court case, Commonwealth vs. Batts, that essentially makes a 2012 sentencing statute retroactive. It pertains to juveniles convicted of first- or second-degree homicide. The statute establishes life in prison as the upper end for a defendant age 15 or older.

Judge Mariani said he believed he was required to make the top end of Mr. Cristina’s new sentence “life” with the bottom end at 20 years. Since he has already served 40 years, Cristina now can apply for parole. The next application period is December. If granted, he would be released from prison but would be court-supervised on parole for the rest of his life.

Cristina’s attorney, Steven C. Townsend, said he was disappointed and frustrated. He said he appreciated the judge’s sympathy for his client but disagrees that the judge’s hands were tied.

Assistant district attorney Ronald Wabby Jr. agreed with Judge Mariani’s assessment of the legal situation, but he did not lobby the judge for any particular sentence.

It has been a long haul for Cristina and his family. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 found in Miller vs. Alabama that mandatory life terms for juveniles are unconstitutional. Defense attorneys across Pennsylvania began seeking resentencings for their clients.

Cristina originally was slated to have a hearing before Judge Mariani in April 2013, but it was postponed while the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether Miller should be retroactive. That happened in January in Montgomery vs. Louisiana.

In February, a state appellate court ordered that nine defendants across the state — including four from Allegheny County — have their cases sent back for resentencing.

Judge Mariani said Cristina can be “held up as an example of what every prisoner should be doing in prison.” He said he reluctantly keeps him behind bars “under the constraint” of state legal precedent.

“He was a juvenile. There’s some issue as to who actually committed the homicide. He’s been a law-abiding convict and then some … I’ll say it plainly, I recommend he be paroled,” the judge said.

He allowed testimony Wednesday.

Andrew Cristina, Jeffrey Cristina’s older brother, said the pair grew up in a home where violence was served up daily. The boys’ father was abusive in every way, said the 63-year-old. He said his parents divorced, and the boys and a sister moved from Brookline to Lawrenceville, where Jeffrey Cristina got in with a bad crowd.

Cristina also took the stand.

He testified he was sorry for the victim and his family and said he wished he hadn’t gone that night with his co-defendant but said the man was a bully.

He acknowledged the physical and verbal abuse by his father, testified to by his brother. Then, in answer to a question from his attorney, Cristina said prosecutors at the time of his trial offered a juvenile conviction that would have sent him to the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center until he was 21. “My father didn’t allow me,” he said.

He has been behind bars ever since, currently at the state prison in Somerset.

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.

 

Juvenile – life sentence for murder wins high court reprieve

Juvenile

Juvenile Lifers

WASHINGTON — Juvenile –  The Supreme Court offered a chance for freedom Monday to hundreds of convicted juvenile murderers given mandatory sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles.

The justices ruled 6-3 that child killers locked away for life as long as a half century ago deserve the same consideration as those under 18 who commit murders today. The court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life sentences for juveniles violated the Constitution.

The decision means that as many as 1,500 prisoners, some convicted when they were as young as 13, can seek reduced sentences or apply for parole. States retain the right to uphold life sentences, but they no longer can be mandatory.

Most of those affected are consolidated in a few states — notably Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes some of them committed decades ago when they were teenagers.

 

“Allowing those offenders to be considered for parole ensures that juveniles whose crimes reflected only transient immaturity — and who have since matured — will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court’s 6-3 majority. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s liberal bloc.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Scalia said the decision, while preserving states’ ability to declare a prisoner “incorrigible” and deserving of his sentence, was “a devious way of eliminating life without parole for juvenile offenders.”

“In Godfather fashion, the majority makes state legislatures an offer they can’t refuse: Avoid all the utterly impossible nonsense we have prescribed by simply ‘permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole,'” Scalia wrote. “Mission accomplished.”

 

The case focused on 69-year-old Henry Montgomery, who murdered a deputy sheriff in Louisiana in 1963 while playing hooky from school. He was 17 at the time and was sentenced to death before having his fate reduced to life without parole in 1970. After being sent to the state penitentiary at Angola, one of the most dangerous in the country, Montgomery helped start a boxing team, worked in the silkscreen department and counseled other inmates.

“Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison,” Kennedy said. While the state still can attempt to show that he deserves that fate, Kennedy added, “prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”

The case is a logical extension of the high court’s juvenile justice jurisprudence. In 2005, it barred the death penalty for those whose crimes were committed before they turned 18. In 2010, it prohibited life without parole for crimes other than homicides. Then in 2012, it blocked all future mandatory life sentences, even for murder.

Since then, it’s been left to state courts or legislatures to decide whether the mandatory sentences of those previously locked away for life should be reconsidered. Hundreds of them were imprisoned in the 1980s and ’90s, when the battle against juvenile crime peaked; some date back to the 1950s.  Fourteen state supreme courts have said the 2012 ruling applies retroactively. Seven others, as well as four federal appeals courts, have said it does not.

Mark Plaisance, who argued Montgomery’s case, called the verdict “just the first step in a long process for Mr. Montgomery.”

“Today’s decision simply provides an opportunity for review,” he said. “It is our hope that state courts will now follow the lead of our highest court and the majority of other states around the country and give those convicted of crimes as youth a chance to become productive citizens.”

USA Today

SEXTING

Sexting

Don’t underestimate the consequences of SEXTING

Call or text Steven C. Townsend for a FREE CONSULTATION. 412-901-7352

A conviction for teen sexting or child pornography can have extremely serious consequences. If you or your child is charged with such a crime as a result of teen sexting, you should contact Pittsburgh Attorney Steven C. Townsend, He has the experience handling these types of cases in juvenile and criminal court. Only an experienced criminal defense attorney can provide you with appropriate legal advice and inform you of the potential consequences of a conviction, including under what circumstances juvenile defendants may be required to register as sex offenders. Steven C. Townsend can tell you what to expect in court and help to you prepare the strongest possible defense.

Sexting is the sending of nude or suggestive photographs by text message, and, when teenagers do it, it can be illegal. Pennsylvania lawmakers have enacted a specific law that makes teen sexting a crime, but a less serious one than child pornography. However, depending on the circumstances, teen sexting could also be considered child pornography or obscenity.

Prior to the enactment of Pennsylvania’s teen sexting law, one case there received a lot of media attention. School officials discovered that students had been exchanging photos of nude and scantily clad teen girls and notified the local District Attorney. He met with the parents of the girls depicted in the photos and told them that the girls would have to participate in a diversionary program or face charges for possessing and distributing child pornography. The girls’ parents refused the diversion program, noting that the photos (one featuring a topless girl and another depicting two girls in their bras) were not pornographic and that the girls were the victims of someone else distributing the pictures. After the families sued, a federal court found that the proposed diversion program violated the girls’ and their parent’s constitutional rights and granted a restraining order to stop the prosecutor from pressing charges against the girls.

(Miller v. Skumanick, 605 F. Supp. 2d 634, 647 (M.D. Pa. 2009), aff’d sub nom. Miller v. Mitchell, 598 F.3d 139 (3d Cir. 2010).)

Punishment

Teen sexting. Teen sexting cases are often handled in juvenile court, where judges typically have greater discretion as to the outcome than they do in adult criminal court. Teens who possess images of other teens or who share images of themselves can be convicted of summary offenses. Summary offenses are punishable by up to 90 days in a jail and a fine of up to $300. The court may refer the teen to a diversionary program that includes an educational program about the consequences of sexting. If the teen successfully completes the program, the charges are expunged.

Sharing a teen sext depicting another person is a misdemeanor of the third degree, punishable by up to one year in jail and no more than $2,500 in fines. It is a misdemeanor of the second degree (punishable by up to two years’ incarceration and no more than $5,000 in fines) for a teen to share a sext of another teen without permission and in order to harass the child depicted. Under the teen sexting law, any cell phone or electronic communication device involved can be forfeited (taken by the state without compensation to the owner).

Cases moved to juvenile court for teens accused of multi-state crime spree

Rose

A hearing was held Friday for two Ohio teenagers accused of going on a multi-state crime spree in June that included a robbery in Elizabeth. 

Rose May, 15, and Triston Kindle, 16, appeared before a judge and learned that their cases will be moved to juvenile court.

“Having them transferred Lucky Patcher latest APK Downloadback to the juvenile court is significant so they can get into some kind of treatment, for rehabilitation vs. punitive consequences in criminal court,” said Steve Townsend, May’s attorney. 

The teenagers are accused of committing multiple crimes in three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Police said the spree started in Ohio, where the teens stole guns and a truck. They then made their way to Pennsylvania, where they were allegedly behind a robbery during which an officer was dragged by a vehicle at a BP gas station in Elizabeth. The duo eluded authorities for several days before surrendering in West Virginia. 

Townsend said it was bad decision making on May’s part.  “There really is no explanation. She has no explanation. She’s 15, she’s very impressionable,” he said. “What they did was unbelievable. She has no prior history with law enforcement or trouble in school, so there was no rhyme or reason why she was involved in this crime spree.”

 May has been at a juvenile detention center, and Kindle had been in the Allegheny County Jail.

When the judge asked Kindle how the jail had been, Kindle said he didn’t like it. Both teenagers are now in a juvenile detention center.  A hearing in juvenile court is scheduled Tuesday for Kindle and May.

Supreme Court mulling resentencing of juveniles

Juvenile Lifers

Should Juvenile sentences be reviewed and should the ruling in Miller apply retroactively?

The U.S. Supreme Court spent 75 minutes Tuesday listening to arguments that could have implications for more than 1,500 people serving life sentences, 524 of them in Pennsylvania.

The court in Montgomery v. Louisiana considered an inmate’s appeal of his sentence of life in prison without parole for killing a police officer at age 17 in light of its own ruling banning such sentences for people who were juveniles at the time of their offenses. Henry Montgomery, now 69, is asking to be resentenced.

The legal question before the justices was whether their 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama that barred mandatory life sentences without parole for those under age 18 can be applied retroactively to inmates sentenced before that decision was issued.

The idea behind the opinion is that juveniles ought to be treated differently than adults who commit crimes. While the decision does not outright ban a life term, it requires the sentencing authority to consider a number of factors about the defendant before deciding on a sentence. Those factors include the offender’s age at the time of the crime, level of maturity, family and home life, extent of participation in the crime and the possibility of rehabilitation.

Since the Miller decision, seven states, including Pennsylvania, have ruled that the court’s opinion does not apply retroactively to those juvenile offenders who have already been sentenced. Twelve states have found that it does.

That means about 1,500 offenders — in those states that have not made the case retroactive — could potentially be resentenced if the U.S. Supreme Court decides in favor of Montgomery.

“The sheer numbers — that’s a lot of people that would have to have new sentencing hearings,” said Sara Jacobson, a law professor at Temple University. “Logistically, there’s a lot that would have to happen if Miller becomes retroactive. But that’s not a good enough reason not to do it.”

Steve Townsend represents a man who has been in prison for nearly 40 years for second-degree murder stemming from the robbery and beating death of an elderly man in Lawrenceville in 1975.

Jeffrey Cristina, now 56, was found guilty on June 29, 1976. He has been in prison ever since. During that time, Cristina has not received any misconducts and has taken advantage of all the educational opportunities presented to him.

In 1993, the Board of Pardons unanimously recommended Cristina for clemency, finding he had compiled a “stunning record.” But his effort was rejected.

In April 2013, Cristina was scheduled to be the first juvenile lifer in Allegheny County to be resentenced under the Miller decision. However, the judge in the case put the hearing on hold while the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the issue of retroactivity.

When Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court rejected the idea of retroactivity, Mr. Townsend said, it was hard for his client.

“We were going to be in a pretty good position after Miller came out,” he said. “I thought he had a great shot at being paroled.”

Now, Mr. Townsend said, his client is aware of the argument in Washington on Tuesday, but he’s trying not to get his hopes up.

“We’ve heard of juveniles becoming completely different people,” Ms. Jacobson said. “The hope is that people are worth more than the worst moment of their lives. For kids, there’s still a chance for change. They deserve a chance to show they’ve reached redemption.”

However, questions asked by the justices during the oral argument in the case indicated they may not decide the merits of Montgomery’s appeal due to a legal technicality. That could mean they may take up another case on the same issue at a later date.

The justices on Tuesday focused more on the technical question of whether they had authority to hear the case, with several signaling strong doubts.

A ruling is due by the end of June.

 

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. Reuters contributed.