Pennsylvania juvenile lifer sues for new sentence under recent Supreme Court ruling

Tyrone Jones
Tyrone Jones
Posted: July 03, 2012

TYRONE JONES was 16 when, police say, he shot another boy in a gang-related execution in North Philadelphia. Jones is now 56 and one of the longest-serving of Pennsylvania's juvenile lifers, having spent his entire adult life behind bars.

On Monday, he became among the first in the state to seek a new sentence under last week's landmark Supreme Court decision declaring mandatory life-in-prison sentences unconstitutional for juveniles.

"What [the high court's ruling] says is that [Jones'] sentence is illegal," said attorney Hayes Hunt, of law firm Cozen O'Connor, who filed the pro bono appeal. "His mandatory life imprisonment without parole is an illegal sentence under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution."

Jones was 16 when two gunmen shot gang member Henry Harrison, 17, to death in North Philly in May 1973. An hour after the slaying, police, seeking a man with a red skullcap, arrested Jones, wearing a red skullcap, outside his home nine blocks away.

Although Jones confessed to the crime and surrendered the .25-caliber gun that he said he fired at Harrison, ballistics tests excluded him as the killer because they showed that Harrison was shot with a .22-caliber gun. Although there were more than 30 witnesses, none identified Jones as the killer. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project is fighting to free Jones, saying that he was convicted solely on his own statements, which did not match the facts of the crime.

In the appeal, lawyer Hunt asked Philadelphia Common Pleas Court to reconsider Jones' sentence in light of the high court's ruling, which cited legal precedents and recent science concerning the brain development of minors, to declare that automatic life-without-parole sentences are cruel and unusual punishment for children. About 2,600 people nationwide are serving that sentence for crimes that they committed as juveniles; Pennsylvania leads the country, with 480 juvenile lifers.

"Because juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform … ‘they are less deserving of the most severe punishments,'" Jones' petition states.

Contact Dana DiFilippo at 215-854-5934, difilid@phillynews.com or on Twitter @DanaDiFilippo. Read her blog at phillyconfidential.com.

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