Update March 21, 2014: In a landmark ruling Wednesday, the Illinois Supreme Court granted new sentencing hearings for every inmate serving life without parole for a crime committed as a child. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court found that sentencing juveniles to life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment, but allowed states to decide whether to apply that retroactively.
The Illinois ruling means that after more than two decades of thinking he would die in prison, Adolfo Davis could possibly be resentenced and released as early as this year. In November, America Tonight sat down with Davis to discuss how he's processing this possibility, and what he would do if he got out.
In October 1990, three members of Chicago’s Gangsters Disciples went out to settle a score, and shot dead two members of a rival gang.
The youngest of the group, just two months past his 14th birthday, was Adolfo Davis. It was never proven that he fired his gun, but he was an accomplice. Davis was tried as an adult, convicted of double murder and sentenced, as the law required, to life without parole. Barely 5 feet tall and just over 100 pounds, Davis went off to prison. Years later, he started to realize that prison is where he would die.
“My journey was written before I even joined the gang,” Davis told correspondent Christof Putzel in an exclusive interview, part of the second installment of America Tonight’s “Crime and Punishment” series. Putzel visited Davis in Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in Crest Hill, Ill.
“My destiny was written when I was born into a chaotic family,” Davis continued. “So being born into that, as many other kids get born into it every day, it's like life is already written for us.”
Adolfo Davis' former prison therapist
Juvenile life without parole is banned in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every single country in the world except three: Somalia, South Sudan and the United States. In Somalia and South Sudan, there are no known cases of people serving a life without parole sentence for a crime committed as a minor. In the U.S., there were around 2,500 as of 2008, according to a Human Rights Watch tally.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and bar associations from Japan to South Africa filed a joint amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw the practice as cruel and unusual. Last summer, the Supreme Court did just that, concluding in Miller v. Alabama that it was unconstitutional for a child’s crime to automatically trigger a life without parole sentence. Now, courts have to take mitigating circumstances into account.
But it was left to the states to decide whether this ruling applied retroactively, and the results have been mixed. Davis' case comes before the Illinois Supreme Court in December, and if the court accepts the ruling as retroactive, Davis could be resentenced and released as early as next year.