A landmark ruling by the nation’s highest court gave Henry Montgomery his first chance at freedom after nearly a half-century behind bars. Two years later, the 71-year-old Louisiana man is still waiting for a parole hearing that could set him free.
Thursday was the two-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Montgomery’s favor. The decision enabled roughly 2,000 inmates to argue for release after receiving mandatory life-without-parole sentences as juveniles.
Louisiana’s parole board delayed a hearing on Montgomery’s parole request from Dec. 14 to Feb. 19. The board is waiting for a legal opinion from Louisiana’s attorney general on how many board members must hear Montgomery’s case. Under Louisiana law, a three-member panel is required for juvenile parole hearings, while at least five members are required for a parole hearing when a violent crime was committed against a law enforcement officer.
Montgomery was 17 when he killed Charles Hurt, an East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy, in 1963. He was initially sentenced to death after a jury convicted him. After the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled he didn’t get a fair trial and threw out his murder conviction in 1966, Montgomery was retried, found “guilty without capital punishment” and automatically sentenced to life without parole.
The Supreme Court decided in 2012 that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” punishment.
In January 2016, the justices made their decision retroactive, deciding in Montgomery v. Louisiana to extend its ban on such sentences to people already in prison.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said 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 decision ushered in a wave of new sentences and the release of inmates from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Arkansas and beyond. But other former teen offenders are still waiting for a chance at resentencing in states and counties that have been slow to address the court ruling, an Associated Press investigation found. In Michigan, for example, prosecutors are seeking new no-parole sentences for nearly two-thirds of 363 juvenile lifers.
A state judge who resentenced Montgomery to life with the possibility of parole said in June that he’s a “model prisoner” who appears to be rehabilitated.