HOLLIDAYSBURG - The attorneys for an Altoona man who was a juvenile when he committed a 1988 murder have asked for a new sentencing hearing in view of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for juveniles is unconstitutional.
James Franklin Rodgers, now 41, has spent the last 24 years behind bars for the murder of 72-year-old Pasquale Lascoli of Altoona. He is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset.
Lascoli was stabbed between 70 and 80 times during a home invasion robbery in the summer of 1988.
A federal public defender from Pittsburgh has filed a petition for a new sentencing for Rodgers, Blair County Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise said Monday.
The request, the third in Blair County since June, comes in the wake of the high court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama. The justices ruled it is unconstitutional to impose a mandatory life-without-parole sentence if that individual was under 18 when the killing occurred.
The issue is complicated because the Supreme Court was silent whether its ruling was retroactive, meaning that it would apply to cases that have already been decided, Kagarise said.
Rodgers was sentenced April 3, 1991, in Blair County Court to life without parole for his first-degree murder conviction.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has already taken up the argument concerning retroactivity, Kagarise said. The court has agreed to review two cases in September that will address the issue of whether the Miller decision applies to closed cases.
But assistant federal public defender Kirk J. Henderson said the Miller decision does apply retroactively.
Because Pennsylvania's mandatory sentencing law is unconstitutional, there is no other legal sentence for juveniles convicted of first degree murder, Henderson argued.
"Miller dictates that Mr. Rodgers' mandatory life without possibility of parole sentence violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and therefore, constitutes a miscarriage of justice," according to Rodgers' petition.
The two other people asking for sentencing reviews are Leonard Bocchicchio and Kristen Edmundson.
Bocchicchio, formerly of Altoona, is lodged at SCI-Houtzdale for the 1980 bowling ball murder of 75-year-old Elwood Figard at the former Penn Classic Bowling Lanes in Logan Township. Bocchicchio, 49, serving as his own attorney, did not specifically ask for a new hearing.
Edmundson, formerly of Duncansville, now 31, is challenging her life-without-parole sentence for the May 2001 murder of 20-year-old Shari Lee Jackson.
Edmundson and a friend, Marie Seilhamer, are both serving life-without-parole for the killing. The two lured Jackson into a car and took her to a wooded area near the Blair-Clearfield county line.
Seilhamer used a baseball bat and Edmundson a box cutter to kill Jackson, whose body was later moved to another location and set on fire.
Edmundson seeks to extend the ban on mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers to defendants who are as old as 25.
She was in her 20s when Jackson was murdered, but Edmundson is arguing that young adults between 18 and 25 years old, like juveniles, have minds that are not yet fully mature emotionally in their ability to control impulses or make decisions.
Edmundson attached a copy of an article published by the American Psychological Association to support her contention.
The Miller decision does not ban life-without-parole sentences, Kagarise said in discussing the Rodgers and Bocchicchio cases.
It simply determined such sentences can't be "mandatory" for juveniles, he said. A judge, under Miller, still can impose such a sentence but only after a hearing.
Hearings soon will be held by the state Senate Judiciary Committee to consider a new law that would give judges guidelines on imposing sentences for juvenile killers, Kagarise said.
The state may impose a new procedure that is used in first-degree murder cases, requiring the sentencing judge to examine aggravating and mitigating characteristics of the defendant, he said.
Kagarise said that in both the Rodgers and Bocchicchio cases, he will argue - if new sentencing hearings are required - that life-without-parole is the appropriate sentence because of the brutality of the crimes.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.