Juvenile lifer asks Pennsylvania high court to take case
Pittsburgh man was 14 when murder on North Side occurred in 1979
December 20, 2016 11:26 PM
The Pittsburgh Press
A July 6, 1980, clip of the Pittsburgh Press covering Ricky Lee Olds' trial.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Pittsburgh man sent to prison for life as a teen for a 1979 murder — but recently resentenced to serve 20 years to life — wants the state Supreme Court to take jurisdiction over his case and all others like it.
In petitions filed Tuesday, inmate Ricky Lee Olds asked Pennsylvania’s high court to guide lower courts in how to handle mandatory resentencing of juvenile lifers like him who were convicted specifically of second-degree murder prior to 2012’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama. There are about 175 such inmates in the state, including 19 who were convicted in Allegheny County.
In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court found that juveniles need to be treated differently from adults and declared mandatory life in prison to be unconstitutional. Another U.S. Supreme Court case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, made Miller retroactive, which means that Pennsylvania’s approximately 500 juvenile lifers must be given individualized sentencing hearings.
Olds, 52, wants the state Supreme Court to decide whether one of its previous rulings in the case Commonwealth v. Batts applies to second-degree murder — he argues it does not — and whether Olds and other defendants like him are eligible for bail pending appeal.
“In Commonwealth v. Batts, this court explicitly stated that its ruling did not apply to juveniles convicted of second-degree murder who neither killed nor intended to kill and whose cases were final prior to June 12, 2012,” wrote one of Olds’ attorneys, Marc Bookman, the director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia.
The estimated 175 juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania convicted of second-degree murder should be excluded from the life maximum sentence required by Batts, Mr. Bookman said.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, said his office would answer the petition in the next 14 days. County prosecutors have previously said that juvenile lifers in these cases must be resentenced to a maximum term of life in prison.
Olds last month was resentenced in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Because he has already served 37 years, Olds immediately became eligible for parole. But instead of being released, as his attorneys argued ought to happen, Olds was denied bond and must instead go through the parole process, which takes about three months.
The defense argues that Old and others are eligible for bond because the low end of the new sentence is 20 years in prison. But Mr. Manko said granting bail to the defendants in these cases is not permitted.
“Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, an inmate serving a prison sentence that has a maximum term of life is not eligible for bail.”
Olds and his attorneys want the state Supreme Court to use its King’s Bench power, which allows it to consider any case in a lower court “when it sees the need to address an issue of ‘immediate public importance,’ according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Olds was 14 when he and two friends went to the Fort Wayne Cigar Store on the North Side early Oct. 9, 1979. One of the teens, Roderick Todd Allen, said he was going to rob the store, and Olds said, “Yeah, right,” and went inside and bought potato chips. His attorneys said that when Olds exited the store, Allen was holding postal worker Thomas Beitler at gunpoint and demanding money. Olds ran away, and Allen fatally shot Beitler.
Olds was offered a deal to plead guilty to third-degree murder and would have received a lesser sentence. He rejected that plea and instead was found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder. He received the mandatory punishment of life without parole.
Mr. Bookman wrote that the case “demonstrates the lack of guidance the lower courts have received” in resentencing juvenile lifers, “and the errors that have occurred as a consequence of that lack of guidance.”
“Across the state, many prosecutors are claiming that every juvenile, regardless of their involvement in the crime or their adjustment over years of incarceration, must receive a maximum sentence of life imprisonment,” Mr. Bookman said. “This means that they must be supervised for the rest of their lives by the state, even if all evidence indicates that it is completely unnecessary. This is onerous and unfair to the juveniles, expensive to the taxpayer, and unconstitutional based on a series of United States Supreme Court cases.”
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com, 412-263-2620.
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