Public Radio Features SADO Attorneys Taking on Tough Juvenile Lifer Cases

SADO attorneys Valerie Newman and Erin Van Campen lay out how some Michigan prosecutors are thwarting the United States Supreme Court in this fascinating segment by Michigan Public Radio, part of a week long series on "Michigan Juvenile Lifers; Who Gets a Second Chance?"

Newman and Van Campen and a team of appellate attorneys at SADO are fighting to get more than 200 Michigan prisoners - sentenced as children to die behind bars - back in front of judges for resentencing, as required by recent rulings of the nation's highest court.

The justices ruled that sentencing juveniles to life in prison is "cruel and unusual punishment," and as such unconstitutional, and should only be done in the rarest of cases where a juvenile displays such extraordinary corruption that he is beyond redemption.

In this eight minute segment by journalist Sarah Cwiek, SADO attorneys describe how some Michigan prosecutors - including Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, are insisting that many of the 363 juvenile lifers in Michigan do indeed fall into that rare category. Newman and Van Campen, along with retired Wayne County Prosecutor John O'Hair disagree.

Newman described how her client, Renard Johnson is like many others now being represented by SADO in their fight for a second chance. Renard was raised in a violent and unstable household. At 17, he participated in a botched armed robbery with three others. He was outside when one his accomplices shot to death the man inside. Nevertheless, he was convicted of first degree murder and sent to prison for life. He is now 50 and an exemplary prisoner who may someday walk free after more than 34 years behind bars.  Renard is one of the lucky juvenile lifers not deemed "the rare case," of incorrigibility so prosecutors did not seek to re-institute his life sentence.  A judge recently re-sentenced him to 30 years, meaning he is now eligible for parole. Attorney Newman told his ebullient family outside the courtroom that he could be home within months. "We'll get him in front of the parole board as quickly as we can."

For more on the series, go to michiganradio.org.  

By:  Lori Brasier

Lori Brasier is a former journalist with the Detroit Free Press. She is working with SADO's Juvenile Lifer Unit on a part-time basis.