HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County judges have started to review a series of murder cases in which juvenile defendants were automatically sentenced to life without parole, which the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year declared unconstitutional.
President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva met late Monday afternoon with Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise and defense attorney Tim Burns to discuss whether Leonard Bocchicchio of Altoona, jailed for murdering a 75-year-old proprietor of a local bowling alley 30 years ago, should receive a new sentencing hearing.
At the end of the status conference, Kopriva decided to wait for at least another 60 days to see if the state Supreme Court provides guidance to county judges. The state court is mulling over the murder sentence of a Philadelphia man, who was a juvenile at the time and sentenced to life without parole.
The major question that needs to be answered is whether Miller v. Alabama is retroactive, meaning that it applies to cases of inmates already serving life without parole or whether it applies to cases yet to be decided.
Kagarise, reflecting the viewpoint of Pennsylvania district attorneys, believes the law is not retroactive, while Burns believes it is.
The Miller decision, issued in June, ruled that it was cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a person who was less than 18 years of age to a mandatory life sentence for first- or second-degree murder without allowing a judge to consider extenuating circumstances. The high court concluded that psychological evidence indicated that the minds of 17-year-olds are not mature and their actions are impulsive.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that before a life sentence can be imposed on a juvenile, the judge must hear and consider evidence that could mitigate the murder that the youth committed.
Two Altoona men, Bocchicchio and James F. Rodgers, who were both 17, when they were charged with murder, were sentenced to life without parole. Rodgers stabbed a 72-year-old man to death during a home invasion robbery.
Both want new sentencing hearings.
The Rodgers case will be reviewed today by Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter.