The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is putting together a list that includes hundreds of inmates who were sentenced to life without parole for killings they committed when they were juveniles, a state-mandated sentence the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last week.
It is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for a state to automatically impose life without parole on a juvenile who has been convicted of murder, the high court ruled in a 5-4 decision.
In Pennsylvania, such a sentence is mandated for a juvenile who has been convicted of first- or second-degree murder.
The list includes James "Frankie" Rodgers of Altoona, convicted of stabbing 72-year-old Pasquale Lascoli between 70 and 80 times during a home invasion 24 years ago.
It also includes four inmates from Clearfield County, including Jessica Holtmeyer, who was only 16 when she helped murder Kimberly Dotts.
Others from Clearfield County include Andrew Callahan, recently retried and convicted for the murder of Micah Pollock; Christopher Weatherill, who was an accomplice in the murder of a woman kidnapped from a mall in DuBois; and Timothy Hanson, convicted for the killing of David Smith on Christmas Eve 1987 after escaping from a juvenile facility.
The state list is still being put together, and other organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch indicate the list of such inmates is much larger, Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said.
One of the individuals who might be missing from that list is Leonard Bocchicchio of Altoona, who used a bowling ball on Dec. 7, 1980, to kill 75-year-old Elwood Figard, the owner of the former Penn Classic Bowling Lanes on East Pleasant Valley Boulevard.
Bocchicchio was only 17 at the time of the murder. It took police several years to solve the Bocchicchio case.
A mandated sentence takes discretion out of the hands of the judge, depriving the judge of the ability to consider mitigating circumstances that juveniles can't control, like their home lives, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.
The sentence deprives the judge the ability to assess a juvenile's "capacity for change," which it was concluded is greater in a child.
The cases before the Supreme Court focused on two juveniles who were only 14 when they killed.
Kagan's opinion stated that a state is not required to guarantee a juvenile's freedom but "must provide some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."
Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, stating that "decency is not the same as leniency. A decent society protects the innocent from violence."
"It is a great tragedy when a juvenile commits murder - most of all for the innocent victims," Roberts said.
Justice Samuel Alito concluded the majority of the court was stating that society "must be exposed to the risk that these convicted murders, if released from custody, will murder again."
While the Supreme Court justices engaged in a hearty debate over the issue, so did local officials.
Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio called the ruling "outrageous."
"I just don't know how murderers wouldn't be given life sentences. Victims are given death sentences," he stated.
He was upset that Kagan kept referring to the killers as children.
"They are not children. They are killers. Anybody who says they are children is out of touch with reality," Consiglio said.
As McNaughton's list shows, a majority of the young killers in Pennsylvania are African-American, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was pleased with the Supreme Court ruling.
The NAACP doesn't think [life without parole for a juvenile] is justified," Blair County Chapter President Don Witherspoon said.
"As a teenager, people change. ... Over a period of time people change," Witherspoon said.
The ruling, while controversial, opens a lot of questions, particularly: What does it mean to people like Rodgers, Bocchicchio, Holtmeyer, Callahan and many others who have served decades in prison with no hope of freedom?
Blair County attorney Thomas M. Dickey studied the high court's opinion and said the Supreme Court did not say the order was "retroactive."
Dickey said, as a defense lawyer, he would file a petition within 60 days asking a judge to find the Kagan ruling to be retroactive and asking for a new sentencing hearing.
If it is denied, Dickey said he would work his way up the ladder, eventually, if necessary, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to make the ruling retroactive.
If a sentence is cruel and unusual, "it always was cruel and unusual," meaning that those teen murderers now serving life without parole are entitled to hearings that could grant them parole, Dickey said.
Consiglio said if the courts eventually grant parole hearings and the cases come before a parole board, relatives of the victims would be able to oppose parole, and, he said he would advise them to do just that.
Rodgers has the best chance of quickly bringing the issue before a court.
Rodgers' appeal of his conviction for killing Lascoli is already before U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson.
Rodgers' case was the first DNA case to be tried in Pennsylvania.
DNA was so new back in 1988 that Senior Judge Ellis W. Van Horn held a weeklong hearing into the scientific validity of "DNA fingerprinting," as it was known back then. He declared it to be a legitimate scientific tool that could be used at trial.
Tests indicated Rodgers' blood was found in the right front pocket of Lascoli's pants - where it was testified the elderly man kept his money.
Lascoli's blood was found on Rodgers' shirt. Police contended that Rodgers. during his frenzied stabbing of Lascoli, cut himself with his blood was mixed with Lascoli's.
Rodgers has appealed his conviction based on ineffective counsel.