Victims: Katricia Daniels, 36, & Robert Shepard, 10
Murderers: Brian Flowers, 16, & Stafon Thompson, 17
Crime date: June 2008
Crime location: Minneapolis
By Abby Simons Star Tribune JUNE 17, 2008
Minutes earlier, Joe Williams had collapsed, sobbing, his slight frame supported by family members and friends in front of the Minneapolis duplex where he found his girlfriend and her son brutally slain last week.
But as the pastor from the church down the street led hundreds of Williams’ supporters in a prayer of defiant hope for Katricia Daniels, her 10-year-old son, Robert Shepard, and their neighborhood, Williams lifted his tear-stained cheeks to the sky, set his jaw and raised a clenched fist.
“We can’t do anything right now for the people that’s gone,” the Rev. Charles Graham said, his voice rising. “But we can make a difference for the people in this community.”
Williams looked past the police tape that still draped the front porch and marched down the street in the Kingfield neighborhood.
It was a message of remembrance, mourning and angry revolt against what the gathered crowd perceived as a status quo of senseless violence that has plagued too many Twin Cities neighborhoods for too long.
Neighbors gathered to remember or to hear about Robert, a rambunctious boy who looked forward to football practice and to starting fifth grade, and his mother, who had three other children.
Their bodies, beaten and stabbed, were found by Williams in the duplex in the 3600 block of 1st Avenue S. Williams’ 18-month-old daughter with Daniels was also found in the home, covered in blood but unharmed.
Two 17-year-old boys, both described as acquaintances of the victims, were arrested Friday in connection with the killings. They were booked in the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center on probable cause murder. Their identities were not released because they are juveniles.
The motive for the killings is unknown. Police have said they are not looking for other suspects.
As the blockwide crowd slowly made its way to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Michelle Hall looked on, shaking her head. She and her husband have raised six children in the neighborhood. Two of her sons, Chad and Chris, coached Robert in basketball. They carried a photo of the boy smiling eagerly and wrestling with a ball nearly as big as he was.
“When something like this happens, I have such mixed emotions,” Hall said. “I know we do positive things in this community, but this is such a setback. It makes me wonder: Have we really done our part as a community?”
She looked on as the crowd chanted declarations of change for violence-plagued neighborhoods.
“Some things might just go back to normal,” she said. “But out of this crowd, if we can affect 10, 20 people to change, we made a difference.”
Cristobal Pena’s entire family has lived on the same block for 65 years. He was raised there. Two sisters, a cousin and now he and his girlfriend are raising their children there.
On Monday night, Pena paused and exhaled, admitting that he was overcome by sadness. But there was more that consumed him.
“We’ve always had a tight-knit community on our block. Hopefully, this will just make it tighter,” he said. “Then they’ll know in 15, 20, 50 years how good of a job we did. We were committed before this happened. We’ll be committed after.”
It was stunning, and ugly when the suspects appeared in court. Back on the Minneapolis block where Katricia Daniels and her son were murdered, the feeling was much the same.JUNE 19, 2008
Stafon Thompson, older by a month, would be arraigned in a minute or so. First up was Brian Lee Flowers, case No. 27-CR-08-29636.
He was wearing an orange jail shirt and appeared behind the safety glass that separates the courtroom from the prisoners, stepping up to a sort of bank teller’s window where he stood, trembling.
Is your name Brian Lee Flowers, Judge John McShane asked.
The kid nodded feebly, resting his chin in his left hand. He was crying like someone who had lost his mother.
The judge told him he had to speak for the record. Nodding wasn’t enough. Are you Brian Lee Flowers?
This time the kid wailed yes, covered his face with his hand and convulsed into sobs.
You were born June 21, 1991? Yes, the kid said. The judge set bail at a million dollars. Might just as well be a billion.
It only took a minute, and the kid was gone from the teller’s window, shuffling through the glass cage, back toward jail. As he went, he let loose a long heart-wrenching cry, a wounded, woeful outburst that cut through the courtroom and seemed to say: Yes, I am Brian Lee Flowers, 17 on Saturday, charged with murdering Katricia Daniels, a woman I called “Mom,” accused of stabbing and bludgeoning and chasing her to her slaughter and then her son, Robert, 10 years old.
A horror show, brief and brutal as a crime. Brian Lee Flowers and Stafon Edward Thompson appeared in the teller’s window and left a courtroom hallway full of weeping relatives of the dead and loved ones of the accused. It was stunning, and ugly.
Back on the block where the murders took place, the feeling was much the same. Unspeakable things have happened. But on the block, there are blood stains. Some as old as the bad old label “Murderapolis.”
In 1995, a former college football star who had a cup of coffee in the pros was shot in the same duplex, 3639 1st Av. S., where last week’s murders took place. Michael Payne, 36, died trying to protect his family from gunmen who kicked in the door. He fell in the yard, his blood leaching into the dirt. Thirteen years later, the spot where he died is still bare.
“They sod it and seed it and it just won’t grow any grass,” Angel Madison was saying. “Maybe it’s the blood.”
Angel, 45, lives next to the duplex, where this decade’s blood can be seen through a window, and there are blood stains on the front door, turned garishly purple by chemicals applied by investigators, as if it was sprayed with grape soda. The sad duplex, clad in flesh-toned shingles, slumps heavily, as if it has seen enough. The stacked front porches look as if they might fall at any moment.
“It seems like everybody who ever moved into that place has had problems,” said Angel, who has lived on the block for 20 years with his wife, Wanita, and their children. “One guy used to beat his girl just about every damn day. Another family was pretty violent, too. And now this poor woman gets slaughtered with her son. It is crazy what is going on.”
Angel says he is a “strict dad” who has raised eight kids and tried to keep his family a step ahead of trouble. Literally.
Last year, a careening Cadillac Escalade came around the corner too hot, lost control, plowed into his yard, ripped through a chain link fence, debarked his maple tree and narrowly missed his wife and daughter who dove for safety.
The house on the other side of Angel’s has a skull and crossbones in the window with a sign: “Just Keep Moving.”
“You can’t let down,” he says. “You got to keep your eyes open.”
There are worse blocks. But this one has three vacant homes and has had its share of troubles. A decade ago, there were drug houses on the block, and hookers on the corner. That’s when decent folks got mad. The cops cleaned up the block, Angel said. But it’s a day-to-day struggle to make sure the decent people have the upper hand. And there can be misunderstandings:
Angel used to work construction but is disabled by back problems. He was tasered when he came out of his house one night and didn’t “get down” fast enough when ordered by cops investigating a street crime. He’s still irritated about that, but the next-door killings of a mom and a 10-year-old are hard to believe and harder to understand.
“It’s almost like they were animals in the wild,” Angel says, shaking his head. “They used to call this woman ‘Mom,’ and then, suddenly, they turn on her. Isn’t that like a wild animal? To turn on the person who cares for them?”
Flowers and Thompson are not animals, and are not convicted. But everyone is horrified by a crime of stunning cruelty and pointlessness.
“I don’t even like to look out my window anymore,” Angel said as he got ready to take a grandson fishing. “You don’t want a cemetery next door. That’s how I feel. It’s like I’m living next to a cemetery.”
Sentenced to life in prison, Brian Flowers, 17, offered a tearful apology to the family of his victims: a Minneapolis mother and her 10-year-old son. By Rochelle Olson Star Tribune
After a Hennepin County jury convicted him of first-degree murder in two killings last summer, 17-year-old Brian Flowers on Tuesday took his chance to speak in court for the first time, turning in his chair and looking directly at the family of his victims in the front row, his eyes swollen, red and wet from crying.
“I just want to say I’m sorry that I did not stop what happened in that house. I’m just sorry, that’s all,” Flowers said.
Flowers’ friend Stafon Thompson was convicted last month and sentenced to life in prison for the killings of 35-year-old Katricia Daniels and her 10-year-old son, Robert Shepard, in their duplex in Minneapolis’ Kingfield neighborhood in June.
District Judge Mark Wernick gave Flowers an identical sentence on Tuesday. Neither man will be released, although both convictions are automatically appealed.
The jury reached a verdict after hearing closing arguments Tuesday morning and deliberating throughout the afternoon. Both Flowers and his mother sobbed and wailed as the verdicts were read and throughout the victim-impact statements and sentencing that followed.
Joseph Williams, the father of Daniels’ toddler daughter who was left alive in the house, spoke before sentencing, addressing Flowers’ family. “I respected your son. He came to the house and everything. He’s not a bad fellow. I can’t put no bad words on him,” Williams said. “But he shouldn’t have been there.”
Williams said his young daughter sometimes wanders the house scared and he finds her hiding in a closet.
“Stay strong,” he said to the Flowers family. “I want you all to continue praying for me.”
Shepard’s father, Robert Shepard Sr., said he wasn’t there for his son, but now he wants to work to end what he called senseless black-on-black crime. “We learn from our mistakes. I just hope that God have mercy on your soul,” Shepard said.
Flowers’ uncle Tim Jackson also spoke, addressing the victims’ family members. “Our prayers have been with you from Day 1. We understand exactly how you feel. Our nephew, Brian’s brother, was murdered and taken from us. So we have been there,” Jackson said.
Daniels bled to death on her bathroom floor from nearly 200 stab wounds, her bloody footprint on the back of the door from when she tried to barricade herself in the room. Her son died face down on a bedroom floor, his feet tangled in bed sheets, both jugular veins severed and marks on his throat from having a TV smashed against him.
Flowers’ lawyer Andy Small argued in his closing argument that the teen was at the Daniels’ home that night because he needed a place to stay, not because he wanted to kill or rob them, and that Thompson attacked Daniels without provocation.
“Brian wasn’t man enough. Brian wasn’t smart enough to say, ‘I’m out of here. I’m going to the cops.’ But that is not enough to say he aided and abetted and assisted,” Small said.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Theresa White said in her argument that three bloody knives, a bloody golf club and a smashed television used in the attacks showed too much damage for one killer. “One person only has two hands. You’re not wielding a knife in each hand and a golf club with your foot,” she said.
White also noted the extensive footprints in blood throughout the scene, some in stocking feet and others matching a Nike Air Force One sneaker. “That’s more than one person, that’s two people,” she said.
White said the sneakers were size 11, the same as Flowers’ shoe size. She noted that those bloody prints were found in two bedrooms, the bathroom, and to and from the knife block in the kitchen. She also said Shepard’s blood was found on top of the sneakers.
“He was holding Robert Shepard when Stafon Thompson was killing and torturing him or he was doing the killing,” she said.
But Small said only a drop of blood was on Flowers’ shoes — nowhere else on him. Thompson’s clothes were covered in blood.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The case of a Minnesota man who was 16 when he and an accomplice killed a mother and son in Minneapolis is being sent back to a lower court for resentencing.
Twenty-six-year-old Brian Lee Flowers was initially given mandatory life without parole for the 2008 killings. But those sentences have since been banned for juveniles.
Flowers was then given two concurrent sentences of life with the possibility of parole, meaning he’d be able to seek parole after 30 years. Prosecutors appealed, arguing for consecutive sentences — meaning no possible release for 60 years.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that judges aren’t limited from imposing consecutive life sentences in these cases. The case was returned to Hennepin County, where the court can use discretion in determining whether Flowers should get consecutive sentences.
The Hennepin County Grand Jury indicted 16-year-old Brian Flowers on two counts of first-degree premeditated murder, Minn.Stat. §§ 609.185(a)(1), 609.05, subd. 1 (2008), and two counts of first-degree murder while committing or attempting to commit aggravated robbery, Minn.Stat. §§ 609.185(a)(3), 609.05, subd. 1 (2008), for causing the deaths of Katricia Daniels and Robert Shepard. A jury found Flowers guilty of all four counts. The Hennepin County District Court sentenced Flowers to two consecutive terms of life in prison for the premeditated murder of Daniels and the premeditated murder of Shepard. Flowers appealed his convictions, claiming that (1) the court violated his Fifth Amendment rights by erroneously admitting into evidence the first statement he gave to the police; (2) the court erred when it failed to instruct the jury on his defense theory; and (3) the evidence was insufficient for a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We affirm.
Katricia Daniels lived with her boyfriend, J.W., and two of her children, 10 year-old Robert Shepard and 16 month-old J.M., in a Minneapolis duplex. On the evening of June 11, 2008, J.W. left for work, leaving Daniels, Shepard, and J.M. at home. When J.W. returned the next morning, he discovered the bodies of Daniels and Shepard. J.M. was sitting on a bed, unharmed. After discovering Daniels’s and Shepard’s bodies, J.W. took J.M. to the home of a neighbor, who called 911.
Several Minneapolis police officers arrived at the duplex shortly after the 911 call and officers from the city’s crime lab unit began to collect evidence at the scene. Daniels’s home was a mess throughout; several items were knocked over, several pieces of furniture were broken, and there was a significant amount of blood in the hallway, two bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. The police found Daniels’s body in the bathroom near the southeast bedroom and Shepard’s body in the north bedroom. According to a police officer from the crime lab unit, there was “a lot of evidence” at the home, and it took officers five days to complete the process of collecting evidence. A significant amount of DNA analysis was completed as part of the investigation.
Two investigators with the police homicide unit, Sergeant Gerald Wallerich and Sergeant Gerhard Wehr, were on call the morning of June 12 and participated in the investigation. Wallerich and Wehr obtained Daniels’s cellular telephone records, and discovered that an outgoing call had been made from Daniels’s telephone to a person named Tiffany Simmons. The investigators interviewed Simmons the next morning, June 13, and Simmons admitted that her boyfriend, Stafon Thompson, and the appellant, Brian Flowers, spent time at Daniels’s home on the night of June 11. Simmons explained to the investigators that Thompson and Flowers were with her in her car the evening of June 11, and she dropped them off near Daniels’s home at around 10:00 p.m. She also stated that she later met with Thompson outside Daniels’s home to get some gas money, and eventually picked Thompson up at E.J.’s home at 1:30 a.m. on June 12. E.J. was the uncle of a friend of both Thompson and Flowers. E.J.’s home was approximately two blocks south of Daniels’s home. After the investigators finished speaking with Simmons they asked her to have Thompson and Flowers contact them.
At about 5:00 p.m. the next day, June 13, Thompson, who was 17 years old, called the investigators and explained that he, Flowers, and Simmons were at Flowers’s home and were willing to speak with the investigators. Wallerich and Wehr went to Flowers’s home and asked if Thompson, Flowers, and Simmons would be willing to go downtown to the police station to speak to the investigators about the investigation into the deaths of Daniels and Shepard. All three agreed, and Simmons drove Thompson and Flowers to the police station. At the police station, each of the three individuals was placed in a separate interview room and they were then interviewed one at a time.
The investigators first interviewed Simmons, and then Thompson. Flowers, who was 16 years old, was the last of the three to be interviewed. During his first interview, Flowers explained he had a disagreement with his mother on June 10 and as a result could not stay at his home on the nights of June 10 and 11. He stated that on June 11 he and Thompson went to Daniels’s home at around 10:00 p.m. to “visit Little Robert and [Daniels].” Flowers was friends with Daniels’s oldest son, who did not live with Daniels, and he explained that Daniels was “like our mom [and] she treated us like a son.” He said that while at Daniels’s home he got something to eat and that he and Thompson “were just talking to her ․ [and were] just playing a video game with Robert.” According to Flowers, when they left Daniels’s home at about midnight, she was fine. Flowers stated that while walking in a nearby park, he and Thompson got into an argument with members of the Bloods gang. After the altercation with the Bloods, they went to E.J.’s home, where Flowers used the telephone to call his friend L.R. at around 1:30 a.m. Thompson used the same telephone to call Simmons. Simmons then drove to E.J.’s home, and Thompson went home with Simmons. Flowers left to meet L.R., eventually going home at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. to sleep on his porch.
After the interviews were completed and while Thompson, Flowers, and Simmons remained in their respective interview rooms, the investigators received information from another individual that Simmons had earlier admitted to her roommate that she “had knowledge of those murders.” Based on this information, the investigators began another round of interviews, beginning with Simmons. When confronted with the new information, Simmons changed her story. She explained that she actually picked up Thompson and Flowers from E.J.’s home at 3:00 a.m. and brought them to her home, where they spent the night. She explained that Thompson and Flowers told her that gang members had entered Daniels’s home, and that Thompson and Flowers ran away because they were scared. Simmons stated that Thompson was covered with blood when she picked him up, and had cuts on his hands. She said Thompson eventually threw his bloody clothes away.
Following this second interview with Simmons, the investigators placed Thompson and Flowers under arrest, gave each of them an “enhanced” Miranda warning for juveniles, and interviewed them separately for a second time. The second Flowers interview took place at approximately 8:10 p.m. During this interview, Flowers stated that he did not kill either Daniels or Shepard, but admitted that Thompson killed Daniels because he wanted her car, or “wanted somethin” and killed Shepard so that there would be no witnesses to his actions. Flowers explained that Thompson first hit Daniels with a golf club, and then stabbed her, and at some point Daniels tried to lock herself in the bathroom. He also explained that Thompson hit Shepard with a TV, knocking him out, and then stabbed him. Flowers said, “I was trying to keep Rob in there, keep Rob in his room. Because Rob was in the room and I (inaudible) stay here because I didn’t want him to see his mom.”
Flowers claimed that he asked Thompson to stop and that he tried to grab Thompson, but Thompson “pushed [him] off.” He also claimed that “I was just (inaudible) to get out of there (inaudible); I didn’t want any part (inaudible).” Flowers admitted that before Shepard was attacked, he took Daniels’s cellular telephone from her bedroom when told to do so by Thompson and later threw the telephone in an alley garbage can. Flowers explained that while standing in the alley after he and Thompson left Daniel’s home, Thompson yelled at him because Flowers “didn’t do anything.”
J.W.lived in an apartment insouth Minneapolis, Minnesota,with his fiancéeKatricia Daniels and her three young children. At approximately 7:10 a.m. on June 12, 2008, J.W.returned home from working the night shift at his job. He discovered Daniels‟ body lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom and the body of Shepard in the entrance to the north bedroom of the apartment.
Evidence at the crime scene was extensive and took nearly a week to process. Police observed significant blood and footprints throughout the house, including in the kitchen, bathroom, and southeast bedroom. The door to the bathroom in which Daniels‟ body was found had been forced open,and the toilet was knocked from its base, likely caused by Daniels bracing herself against it as she tried to keep the bathroom door closed. The walls and ceiling of the bathroom were covered with scrapes and gouges.The bedroom where Shepard was found was strewn with papers, a cabinet was broken into pieces, and a television set was on the floor next to Shepard’s body.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner performed autopsies on both bodies. Shepardsuffered both sharp force and blunt force injuries to his head and neck. There was evidence of asphyxia. The cause of death was complex homicidal violence. Based on the lack of defensive wounds, the State argued at trial that Shepard washeld by one person and killed by another.
Daniels suffered many sharp force injuries to her head, neck, torso, arms, and hands. She suffered approximately 193 stab wounds.She had injuries to her hand and arm areas that were consistent with defensive wounds. The likely cause of death was blood loss that resulted from the stab wounds.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Minnesota inmates who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole for murders they committed when they were teenagers are being resentenced to life with the possibility of release after 30 years.
The change comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a ban on mandatory life without parole for juveniles should apply to those already serving such sentences. The ruling affected eight Minnesota inmates; seven were resentenced, and the eighth has his resentencing pending. It will be about nine years before the first offender is eligible to seek release.
The state is still wrestling with how to handle offenders who killed multiple victims as teenagers and are now serving more than one life sentence. The amount of years that must be served before parole varies greatly depending on whether multiple sentences are served consecutively or concurrently.
The state Supreme Court recently upheld three consecutive life sentences for Mahdi Hassan Ali, who killed three people in a Minneapolis market in 2010. He won’t be eligible to seek parole until he serves 90 years, which his attorneys say amounts to a life sentence. They argued that the three sentences should run together, so he’d be eligible for release after 30 years. His attorneys are seeking a U.S. Supreme Court review.
In its decision, the state’s highest court said the U.S. Supreme Court rulings don’t squarely address how multiple sentences should be handled, so absent further guidance it would not apply the federal rulings.
The final decision in the Ali case could affect two other offenders: Brian Lee Flowers, 25, and Stafon Thompson, 26, were 16 and 17 when they killed a mother and son in Minneapolis in 2008. Both were initially sentenced to mandatory life without parole.
Flowers was resentenced earlier this year to two concurrent sentences of life with the possibility of parole, meaning he can seek parole after 30 years. Prosecutors are appealing, arguing that Flowers’ sentences should be consecutive. His resentencing was carried out before the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on the Ali case.
U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on mandatory life sentences without parole for teens has left confusion in Minnesota and nationwide. By Randy Furst Star Tribune NOVEMBER 30, 2014
Five years ago, teenagers Stafon Thompson and Brian Flowers were convicted in separate trials of first-degree murder in a gruesome double-slaying in south Minneapolis. Both were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Now one local federal judge, Joan Ericksen, has declared that Flowers’ sentence must be reconsidered based on a new U.S. Supreme Court decision that changed the law on juveniles sentenced to life without parole.
A second local federal judge, Patrick Schiltz, has taken an opposite view. He ruled that the high court decision applies only to new cases, and Thompson should not have his sentence reconsidered.
The conflicting rulings put Minnesota squarely in the middle of an intensifying legal fight over mandatory sentences for juvenile offenders convicted of murder.
“It is representative of the confusion we are seeing across the country,” said Marsha Levick, chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, a national organization based in Philadelphia.
Nine state Supreme Courts have ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder must be applied retroactively, potentially altering the fate of hundreds of prisoners.
Four state Supreme Courts, including Minnesota, said previous convictions should not be reconsidered.
The split over Thompson/Flowers has been appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Other federal appeals courts are weighing the issue, and the debate might ultimately land at the U.S. Supreme Court.
At stake are the sentences of an estimated 2,500 U.S. prisoners who were juveniles when they were sentenced to life without parole, including eight from Minnesota.
“My lawyers have advised me to remain pessimistic about the situation,” Flowers, now 23, said in a telephone interview from Minnesota’s Oak Park Heights prison. Thompson declined to be interviewed.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life sentences for juveniles without parole are unconstitutional. Trial judges must now consider other factors, including the youth’s maturity and role in the crime before deciding if life without parole is warranted.
But the court left open the question about whether convictions imposed before its ruling need to be reconsidered.
“I think that we have condemned so many children to die in prison it is troubling,” said Bryan Stevenson, an Alabama attorney who successfully argued the 2012 case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Stevenson, who spoke at the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis on Tuesday, said in an interview that laws that establish life sentences without parole were created for adult criminals who have no hope for change.
“But you can never say that about a child,” Stevenson said. “Every child will change biologically, physically, psychologically and to pretend they don’t change is not only not scientific it is also pretty abusive in my opinion.”
Thompson, then 17, and Flowers, 16, were convicted of murdering Katricia Daniels, 35, and her 10-year-old son, Robert Shepard, in their Kingfield neighborhood duplex in 2008.
Daniels was stabbed nearly 200 times while her son died face down on a bedroom floor, both jugular veins severed. There were marks on his throat indicating he had a TV set smashed against him. The motive was unclear, and Flowers declined to discuss details.
“I’m sorry that it happened,” he said. “I wish I could go back and change a couple of things. But I can’t go back. These people lost their lives … I could have changed a lot of things.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman does not want their sentences cut short. Of the eight juveniles in Minnesota who were sentenced to life without parole, he said five were prosecuted in Hennepin County, including Thompson and Flowers.
“I have reviewed every one of the [eight] cases, and all of them are the most horrific crimes,” Freeman said. “They are really, really, ugly … We don’t think any of those … should get anything other than life without parole.”
Perry Moriearty, an associate law professor at the University of Minnesota, who has joined attorney Bradford Colbert to represent Flowers, said the U.S. Supreme Court has already concluded that it is unconstitutional to execute juveniles, sentence them to life without parole for nonfatal crimes, and now, sentence them to life without parole under a mandatory statute.
“What these three cases together show is that the court has recognized that kids are different,” and should not be sentenced the same way as adults, she said. Moriearty said the high court had relied on scientific studies showing adolescent brains develop differently and are not fully developed until age 25.
“Adolescents are more susceptible to peer pressure, they are more impulsive,” she said. “ … They have less control and they cannot formulate intent to the same degree as an adult.”
If the courts get to review the Flowers and Thompson sentences, a likely issue will be Flowers’ role in the murders. Freeman insists Flowers played an active part in both killings, while Flowers’ attorneys say he did not.
In affirming Flowers’ conviction in 2010, state Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, wrote, “there is much less evidence that Flowers participated in the acts of murdering Daniels and Shepard.”
Anderson concluded it was one of the most difficult cases they had faced. “Nevertheless we conclude there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction of aiding and abetting first degree murder,” he wrote.
The federal appeals decision could hinge on a technical and long debated argument. Freeman’s office contends that the Supreme Court ruling on life without parole is not retroactive because the decision does not change what constitutes a criminal behavior, nor does it change the maximum penalty for the crime. It only changes whether the judge has discretion to give something less than the maximum penalty and the procedure the judge must follow.
Stevenson, the Alabama civil rights attorney who has gained national attention for his new book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” questions why prosecutors “want to defend a sentence that the U.S. Supreme Court has said is cruel and unusual punishment.”
He said there is no harm in having a judge consider appropriate punishment. “Why is there this effort to shield some cases from scrutiny and reviewal?”
Freeman said that all murder convictions are reviewed by appeals courts.
“Citizens are paying millions of dollars for people who committed serious crimes, debating how long their sentence should be,” he said. “We can use that money for preschool, for day care, for better housing, for job opportunities.”
The appeals court will have to resolve another issue. Judge Ericksen rejected Freeman’s notice of appeal of her decision on Flowers because it was filed 41 days after her ruling, 11 days after what court rules allow. She wrote that the county attorneys did not give a satisfactory reason for the delay.
The Eighth Circuit is also considering the retroactivity issue of life without parole in another Minnesota case. LaMonte Rydell Martin was 17 when he and another man killed a 19-year-old man in north Minneapolis in an execution-style slaying in 2006.
His attorney argued at sentencing that Martin had an IQ of about 77, twice had been shot in the head, and that such a sentence was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. But the state Supreme Court ruled that it was not.
Martin appealed his sentence to the federal district court, and last year, Judge Susan Nelson rejected his claim, saying the 2012 Supreme Court decision on juveniles was not retroactive.