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50-years-to-life sentence upheld for killer who was 16 at time of shooting

The California Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday to uphold a sentence of 50 years to life for an inmate who was 16 when he fatally shot another teenager in 2011.

The court said a recent state law giving such offenders the chance of parole after 25 years satisfied legal concerns about life sentences for juveniles.

Tyris Lamar Franklin was 16 when he shot and killed another teenager for beating up his younger brother. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder and a consecutive term of 25 years to life for using a firearm. He had a possibility of parole after 50 years.

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In the year before he killed Gene Grisby, Franklin had been involved in several altercations with a group of boys who lived in a Richmond housing project. At first, the boys engaged in fistfights, the court said. Then they began arming themselves.

Franklin blamed the housing project gang for a shooting into his family’s home when the family was inside and for an incident in which the tires of his mother’s car were slashed and the windows shot out.

After Franklin shot him, Grisby ran into an apartment he shared with his aunt and died there. He had bullet wounds in his head and body.

After Franklin, now 21, was sentenced, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that mandatory life without parole for juvenile killers violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

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Franklin contended his sentence amounted to life without parole because he would not be entitled to release until he was 66.

The Legislature, however, trying to address concerns about lengthy sentences for youths, passed a law giving juvenile offenders parole hearings after 25 years behind bars and directing the parole boards to give great weight to the fact the inmates committed their crimes as youths.

The court said that law, which became effective in 2014, “mooted” Franklin’s challenge of his sentence as unconstitutional.

The law “reflects the Legislature’s judgment that 25 years is the maximum amount of time that a juvenile offender may serve before becoming eligible for parole,” Justice Goodwin Liu wrote for the court.

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The court also agreed, 6-1, to send Franklin’s case back to the trial court to determine whether a legal record should be made showing how his age affected his behavior, information the parole board might later need in deciding whether to release him.

Juvenile-justice experts had urged the court to reject Franklin’s sentence on the grounds that there was no guarantee a parole board would release him after 25 years.

But the court noted that the parole board has yet to adopt new regulations for youth offender hearings, and said “it would be premature for this court to opine” on what the board should consider.

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“We cannot say at this point that the broad directives set forth [by the law] are inadequate to ensure that juvenile offenders have a realistic and meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” Liu wrote.

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maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan


UPDATES:

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3:05 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reporting and background.

11:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with the court’s statement.

This article was originally published at 11:05 a.m.


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