Matthew Bentley was fourteen years old in 1998 when he broke into a house, stole a gun, and shot the homeowner. The prosecutor filed charges against Matthew in adult court using automatic waiver. Under current law, this meant that Matthew would receive a mandatory adult sentence of life without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Matthew had a difficult home life. Both his father and one of his older brothers were in prison for molesting Matthew’s siblings. However, neither Matthew’s home circumstance nor his strong capacity for rehabilitation could be considered once he was found guilty in adult court. Despite serious reservations expressed at trial about sentencing a youth of Matthew’s age to prison for life, and Matthew’s demonstration of excellent progress while at the juvenile detention facility, the Circuit Court Judge had no choice but to impose a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Had Matthew committed the offense and been sentenced under the law that existed two years earlier, he would not have been eligible for trial in adult court, and would have received rehabilitative programming through a juvenile sentence rather than mandatory LWOP.
Kevin Boyd was raised by both his parents until the age of 11 when his mother and father got divorced. As a child Kevin faced grueling mental and physical abuse, and often feared the unpredictable actions of both his mother and father. Following the divorce, Kevin’s mom started doing drugs, and his father began drinking heavily. Kevin went through ten different schools before he dropped out after 10th grade. While in middle school, Kevin attempted suicide and was diagnosed with severe depression and ADHD.
When he was 16, Kevin’s mom called him and asked him to meet her at a Burger King. She told Kevin that she and her girlfriend were going to kill Kevin’s father that evening. His mother asked Kevin for the keys to his dad’s house and Kevin gave them to her. The two women left with the keys and Kevin had no further contact with them that evening. The next morning Kevin woke up feeling uneasy. Kevin rushed over to his dad’s house, kicked down the doors and found his dad stabbed and laying in his easy chair, at which time Kevin called the police. Kevin was arrested and interrogated without a guardian or parent present, and the police questioned him until he agreed that he played a part in the murder.
Kevin has received his GED and a custodial trade certificate while in prison. He’s currently a school porter, but he isn’t eligible for any other vocational programs due to his life sentence. Kevin spends his free time in prison jogging, playing guitar, and writing music. One of the most rewarding experiences for Kevin is the work he does with younger inmates as part of a mentorship program within the prison. He provides guidance, and tutors the youth to help them get their GED and stay on track while in prison.
Henry Hill was 16 when he was charged for his involvement in a shooting that took place at a park in Saginaw. On July 16, 1980, Henry and a few friends went to Wickes Park to confront three other boys they had been feuding with previously. Henry fired several shots in the air with a handgun to scare off other people in the park, but never fired his gun at the victim. Despite the fact that all four bullets found in the victim’s body were characteristic of a .30 carbine caliber, the weapon used by one of Henry’s codefendants, Henry was still charged with 1st degree murder for aiding and abetting.
Henry is now 45 years old and has spent nearly two-thirds of his life behind bars. After his arrest, Henry was evaluated and found to have the academic ability of a third grader, and the mental maturity of a 9 year-old. The doctor who did his evaluation recommended that Henry remain under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court.
Since his incarceration, Henry has worked hard to make the most of his situation by earning his GED, and gaining certification in a variety of vocational trades including and legal research and food services, where he is the lead cook. He continues to try to educate himself despite his learning disabilities, and enjoys church related activities, particularly his bible study class. Despite his efforts, Henry’s facilities have denied him group counseling and psychological treatment because of his lifer status.
Bobby Hines was 15 years old in 1989 when he and a few of his friends were involved in an argument with other teenagers that ultimately led to one of Bobby’s co-defendants firing several shots and fatally wounding one and injuring another. Despite the fact that Bobby never touched the murder weapon used in the crime and has consistently claimed he ran away from the scene, Bobby was convicted of felony homicide. It was demonstrated at trial court that Bobby’s 19-year-old co-defendant supplied the gun while his other co-defendant, a 16 year old, committed the actual shooting. The 19 year old was allowed to plead to 2nd Degree Assault with Intent and received a parolable sentence.
At the time of Bobby’s arrest, he had completed the 8th grade and was enrolled at Brooks Middle School in Detroit, where he received good grades and attended school regularly. He was well-behaved at home and often worked with his father repairing homes.
Bobby is now thirty-five years old and has been in prison for almost 20 years. He has earned his GED and vocational qualifications.
Keith Maxey was 16 years old in 2007 when he was part of a robbery at an abandoned house. He and two others attempted to rob four people during a drug deal. Keith did not possess a weapon himself nor did he shoot any of the victims. His role in the robbery was to restrain one of the victims by wrapping his arms around him. The victim who was being restrained by Keith was able to take out his own gun and shoot Keith. Keith got shot in the stomach, right thigh and knee. Keith fled the scene at that point. After Keith was shot, his two accomplices, who both had guns, shot at three of the four people at the house. One died at the scene. Keith’s co-defendants were both shooters and adults at the time of the crime yet received shorter sentences than Keith.
After his parents divorced when he was 4 years old, Kevin was raised by her mother (but Keith’s father stayed involved in his son’s life). At the time of Keith’s arrest he had completed the 10th grade. He had no prior juvenile convictions and no prior adult convictions.
Jennifer Pruitt was 16 when became a runaway. An older neighbor who took her in planned to rob someone in the neighborhood. Jennifer told her that an elderly man she had known since she was six years old, had money and agreed to participate in a robbery. On the evening of August 30, 1992, the neighbor let them in. Jennifer asked to use the bathroom. When Jennifer came out she found the other woman stabbing the victim and did not intervene. Jennifer had no idea the murder was going to take place. When the woman fell asleep later that night, Jennifer escaped to a nearby house and the police were called.
Jennifer went into severe depression over her role in the crime. She was determined to be unfit to stand trail until she was eighteen. At her trial, a psychologist testified that Jennifer needed long-term mental health treatment. Jennifer was then sentenced to adult court because the judge believed there was more rehabilitative programming for Jennifer available in the adult system. Jennifer is now 33 years old, and has spent more than half of her natural life behind bars.
Bosie Smith-El is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a murder that happened in Ypsilanti in 1992. Bosie entered the plea of not guilty, by reason of self-defense. He suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, and as a result is distinctively small in stature. One night while he was being physically attacked, a woman handed Bosie a knife to use to protect himself. In light of this, Bosie should have been charged with manslaughter, rather than premeditated murder.
As a youth Bosie had a troubling home life, and was arrested numerous times for running away from home. He also has allegations on his juvenile record of assault and battery (non-felony) and carrying a concealed weapon, for which he was placed on probation. He was also picked up several times for parole violations.
Before his incarceration, Bosie enjoyed being a member of his school’s wrestling team. He was also very involved with his local church, where he regularly participated in a youth program as well as the church choir. The last grade he completed was 8th. Since being in prison, Bosie has completed his GED, Commitment to Change, Career Scope, 2nd Chance at Life Retired Greyhound prison program, Communication Skills, Diversity, Critical Thinking, Prisoner Rape Elimination Act education, Blood Bourn, and is waiting to finish custodial maintenance, conflict resolution, and substance abuse training. Bosie is also on the list for the pre-release program. Bosie is always very eager to learn more about the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative, and seems to stay educated and up to date on current legal changes and events taking place. The biggest challenges Bosie says he faces in prison is the emotional stress of being alone, and the little contact he has with loved ones. Because of his size and condition, he also faces physical pressure, and feels threatened regularly by other inmates. Should Bosie be given a second chance, he would like to have a simple life, with the opportunity to show that he can be a good citizen.
Jemal Tipton was 17 in 1987 when he participated in a robbery with two adults, Nellie McInnis, a 46-year-old friend of his mother’s, and Anthony Parks, his older brother. McInnis drove Jemal and Anthony to where the robbery took place. She gave Jemal a .22 caliber pistol and identified an acquaintance of hers as the person to rob. Armed with the pistol, Jemal approached the victim and demanded his valuables. A scuffle ensued and the gun went off twice. One shot struck the victim, killing him.
Jemal had a difficult upbringing in which he was shuttled between family members and friends during his mother’s stays in jail or drug treatment facilities, before ending up in the care of McInnis, a family friend with a long criminal history.
Under Michigan laws in place at the time, Jemal was automatically charged as an adult with felony murder. He was tried as an adult and after trial was convicted and given the mandatory adult sentence for the offense, life in an adult prison. In sentencing Jemal Tipton, the trial court had no discretion to consider his juvenile status. Because of the nature of the offense, the Michigan Parole Board has no jurisdiction to consider Jemal Tipton for parole. At no stage in his prosecution was his juvenile status considered and he has never been afforded a meaningful opportunity for release based on this status.
Since his incarceration, Jemal has taken every opportunity to rehabilitate himself. He obtained his GED and electrician certification. He currently works as an electrician on electrician work detail earning three dollars a day and mentors younger prisoners, encouraging them to continue their education while in prison. He has now served 22 years in adult prison.
On the night of the offense, Damion was with a group of friends in a car that was driving away from a school party. A group of teenagers sped up behind them in another vehicle. They flashed their brights and started shooting into the car where Damion was a passenger. Feeling scared and threatened, the boys left the party and returned with a gun. As soon as they came back, they were fired at again by the other group of youth. Because he was sitting next to the window, Damion’s friends thrust the gun towards him, pushing it into his hand saying, “shoot back.” Damion shot the gun out the window and into the air with no intention of harming anyone.
In 1987, a clinical psychologist examined Damion Todd. The doctor said the crime was a product of youth and that Damion could have been dealt with just as efficiently through probation in the community.