The federal public defender in Pittsburgh said that a Blair County man sentenced to life without parole when he was a teenager should be given a new sentencing hearing because of a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court calling such mandatory sentences for juveniles cruel and unusual punishment.
Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio said Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark decision, Miller vs. Alabama, did not rule out life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder, but did state that making such a sentence mandatory is unconstitutional.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Consiglio said, a sentencing judge must be given the opportunity to review mitigating circumstances, such as the youth's propensity for rehabilitation, to decide if parole might be a possibility.
The decision is likely to have its greatest impact in Pennsylvania, which has 400 or more lifers convicted of killings committed when they were juveniles.
Two of those lifers are from Blair County - James "Frankie" Rodgers, convicted of killing an elderly man in 1988 by stabbing him between 70 and 80 times during a home robbery, and Leonard Bocchicchio, who in 1980 killed a 75-year-old owner of a bowling alley along Pleasant Valley Boulevard. Both Rodgers and Bocchicchio were 17 at the time of the murders.
Bocchicchio, now 49, is serving his life term at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale, while Rodgers, 42, is behind bars at SCI Somerset.
Consiglio said he hasn't heard from Bocchicchio since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling but has heard from Lisa B. Freeland, the federal public defender in Pittsburgh representing Rodgers, stating he should be granted a new sentencing hearing.
"Because Mr. Rodgers is serving an unconstitutional mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentence, the conviction and sentence which he is challenging before this court [U.S. District Court in Johnstown], he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing in state court," Freeland stated in a petition filed with a federal magistrate
On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped into the picture in an effort to provide more clarity to the U.S. Supreme Court decision. It is tackling the question of whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision is retroactive, meaning that it applies to juvenile killers already serving life without parole.
Andy Hoover of the American Civil Liberties Union said lawmakers should act to ban juvenile life sentences altogether.
"It's going to be difficult for the Legislature to set up a scheme that maintains life without parole for kids but makes it rare," he said.
Consiglio said on Tuesday the state's prosecutors also want clarification of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. At a state Senate hearing in July, the association representing Pennsylvania district attorneys opposed retroactive application of the Supreme Court ruling and argued for a sentencing scheme in which the juvenile lifers would not be eligible for release before age 60.
Consiglio is upset with the way the federal public defender and anti-death penalty groups are doing all they can to rid the state of the death penalty and life in behind bars.
He called them "pro-criminal" and "anti-victim."
He said these groups show little concern for the deceased, the public and the safety of the community.
Pennsylvania has 46 inmates who were sentenced before 1960 as juveniles to life without parole. One inmate was given the life without parole sentence in 1953 when he was 15 years old.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.