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US lifer free after 68 years in prison
Pic: Shutterstock

26 Feb 2021 / global news Print

US lifer free after 68 years in prison

The oldest and longest-serving juvenile lifer in the US was released from prison this month at the age of 83, thanks to a pair of US Supreme Court decisions, says the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal.

Joe Ligon served 68 years in a Pennsylvania prison after he was sentenced to life without parole at a one-day trial in 1953, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Supreme Court 2012 ban

The Journal said Pennsylvania led the US for putting the most youths behind bars for life without parole, when the country’s Supreme Court last addressed the issue in 2016.

The Supreme Court banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles younger than age 18, in a 2012 opinion that said the sentences violated the US constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

In 2016, the Supreme Court said the 2012 decision was retroactive.

Ligon was convicted for participating with four other youths in the stabbing of eight men during a night of drinking. Two of the men died, although Ligon said he didn’t kill anyone. He did admit to stabbing a victim who survived. Ligon was 15 years old at the time of the crime.

Pending case

The Journal says a pending Supreme Court case, Jones v. Mississippi, considers whether a court can sentence a juvenile to life without parole absent a finding that the youth is permanently incorrigible.

The American Bar Association argues in an amicus brief that life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are permitted only in rare cases.

Ligon had turned down a chance to be released after the 2016 ruling because the offer included a parole requirement. Ligon said he deserved to be free with no restrictions. As a result, he stayed in prison until a judge ruled in November that he should be released within 90 days.

Clemency offer 

Ligon had also turned down a clemency offer from Pennsylvania’s governor in the 1970s that included a parole requirement for the rest of his life, according to CNN.

“I feel real good,” Ligon told the Washington Post after his release.

“When you get life, you have no hope, especially if you give up. You don’t make plans like I made plans.”

His plan was to experience freedom.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland