COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A 112-year prison sentence imposed on a convicted rapist should be overturned because it amounts to an unconstitutional life term for crimes he committed at age 15, the inmate's lawyer argued Wednesday before Ohio's highest court.
Brandon Moore was tried as an adult and convicted in the 2001 armed kidnapping, robbery and gang rape of a 22-year-old Youngstown State University student.
The woman was abducted as she arrived for an evening work shift and was repeatedly raped at gunpoint by Moore and an accomplice before being released, according to court records. Moore, now 29, received his sentence in 2008.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that teenagers may not be locked up for life without chance of parole if they haven't killed anyone. By a 5-4 vote in the case of a Florida man serving time for armed robberies when he was a teen, the court said the constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release and the chance of rehabilitation.
At issue is whether that ruling applies to Moore, whose prison term consists of multiple sentences stacked on top of one another.
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision made it clear that a juvenile's sentence must provide "meaningful opportunity for release," Rachel Bloomekatz, an attorney for Moore, told the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday.
What a judge can't do, she argued, is rule that a juvenile "is never fit to re-enter society from the outset."
Prosecutors in Mahoning County argue the multiple sentences make Moore's punishment constitutional, even though they "may preclude the possibility of release during the juvenile offender's life," according to an August filing with the court.
The U.S. Supreme Court case specifically dealt with juveniles sentenced to life without parole for a crime not involving a homicide, prosecutors argue. It was "speaking to a life sentence, a direct life sentence, not an aggregate sentence," Ralph Rivera, a Mahoning County assistant prosecutor, told justices Wednesday.
Moore's lawyers say his punishment amounts to the same thing.
It "defies science and common sense to think that a 112-year sentence is anything but life without parole," Moore's attorneys argued in a July court filing.
Justices seemed skeptical of the prosecutor's attempt to distinguish between a single life-without-parole sentence and several long sentences stacked together.
Justice William O'Neill asked Rivera whether the trial judge hadn't said with Moore's sentence: "You're not coming back?"
Rivera agreed, but added: "Based on the facts of the crime, I don't see how a reasonable person can find this sentence shocking in any sense."
"Forget about shocking — the Supreme Court said you can't do it," O'Neill said.
Ohio prosecutors in a separate filing are asking that the sentence be upheld, while a national defense attorneys group wants it struck down.
A decision isn't expected for several weeks.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.
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