The Arkansas Supreme Court said this month that an Ashley County man previously sentenced to life in prison must receive a new sentence after the state Supreme Court ruled he should be re-sentenced under a new state law.
Circuit Judge Bynum Gibson Jr. had re-sentenced Vernon Robinson-Muhammed to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years under a new state law in July 2017. He had previously been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
In a split decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Dec. 13 that Muhammad should be sent to Ashley County for a new sentence to a specific term of years in prison.
The matter is largely procedural, however, since Muhammed has already reportedly been paroled.
Muhammed was first sentenced to prison in 1983, when he was 17.
A series of U.S. Supreme Court court rulings in recent years determined, however, that life sentences for juveniles constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and a 2016 case said that all juvenile life cases previously sentenced must be subject to review and re-sentencing.
Robinson-Muhammed pleaded guilty along with his brother, Carl Robinson, who was 20, in the death of an elderly Wilmot woman, Alice Mosely, who was was raped and fatally beaten during a robbery.
Vernon Robinson-Muhammed’s contention has been that while he participated in the crime by cutting telephone wires at the victim’s house and keeping watch, Carl Robinson was the main perpetrator.
Carl Robinson, whose case was not subject to re-sentencing because of his age at the time of the crime, has maintained that the younger brother was the greater perpetrator in the killing.
In the legislative session following the 2016 Supreme Court ruling, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 539 of 2017, which states that, “The General Assembly acknowledges and recognizes that minors are constitutionally different from adults and that these differences must be taken into account when minors are sentenced for adult crimes” and that, “Minors are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures, including from their family and peers, and they have limited control over their own environment and lack the ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings.”
The act requires that youth defendants who are sentenced to life still serve at least 30 years before they are eligible for parole, though it asserts that “Youthfulness both lessens a juvenile’s moral culpability and enhances the prospect that, as a youth matures into an adult and neurological development occurs, these individuals can become contributing members of society.”
Arkansas has joined Texas, Utah, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nevada, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Alaska, West Virginia, Colorado, Hawaii, Delaware, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachussets, and the District of Columbia, in eliminating life sentences without parole for minors.