Arrested at 17 for murder gets parole after 57 years in the US


At age 17, Henry Montgomery was arrested for shooting and murdering Charles Hurt, deputy sheriff of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after being caught skipping school. That was in 1963. This Wednesday (17), 57 years later, he was given parole from the US State Pardon and Parole Board.

Montgomery, now 75, was serving life in prison without the right to parole, which was an improvement over a previous conviction. He was initially sentenced to the death penalty, but the punishment was reviewed in 1966 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that he had not had a fair trial.

So Montgomery spent decades in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola.

His story began to change when the US Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that sentences without the possibility of parole for minors were “cruel and unusual” punishment. The court left it open whether the ruling would apply to retroactive cases and, four years later, concluded that it would — in the Montgomery v. Louisiana.

But while at least 800 people who had been sentenced to non-parole sentences as teenagers were released since the Supreme Court decision, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth movement, Montgomery remained in detention.

The new sentence revision came in 2017, when a judge ruled the sentence of life imprisonment with the right to parole, saying that Montgomery was an exemplary prisoner. Louisiana’s council, however, has rejected the parole application twice since then, most recently in 2019.

In a reassessment Wednesday, the three-member body revised its position and unanimously approved Montgomery’s parole. “He has been in prison for 57 years. He has an excellent disciplinary record,” counselor Tony Marabella said at the hearing, according to the Associated Press. “He poses a low risk according to our assessment. He received good comments from agents.”

Montgomery said little at the session, which lasted about half an hour and was conducted via videoconference, according to the news agency’s report. His lawyer, Keith Nordyke, said he has a hearing problem — the defender himself had to repeat questions to Montgomery, who reported difficulties finding the words to express himself.

Released, the American will now be placed in the custody of the Louisiana Probation Project, according to the AP. Created in 2016 by Andrew Hundley, the initiative helps people who have served sentences of at least 20 years.

The founder defended Montgomery in Wednesday’s hearing. “There is nothing more for him to do at Louisiana State Penitentiary,” he argued. “It’s time for Henry to go home.”

The view, however, is not shared by all of Hurt’s family, the deputy sheriff killed in 1963. Married, he had three daughters — two even visited Montgomery in prison and forgave him, according to the Associated Press. Other family members and another daughter, Linda Hurt Woods, opposed the release.

“I don’t believe he should be released now,” Woods said, still according to the news agency, adding that the decision shows deep disrespect for security agents. “He made a decision at 17. You know the difference between right and wrong at 17. I knew.”

For the co-executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Condemnation of Youth, Jody Kent Lavy, the decision comes with a long delay. “It is a serious injustice that he served 57 years in prison for a crime he committed as a teenager, despite evidence that he was long since rehabilitated,” said Lavy, in a note sent by email to sheet.

“We are the only country in the world that condemns children — disproportionately black children — to die in prison and we need to recognize that this fight is not over.”

According to the movement, at least 31 states and the District of Columbia, where Washington is located, prohibit life in prison without parole for children and adolescents or do not have convicts in this situation serving sentences.


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