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Last updated: April 11. 2013 2:49PM - 1679 Views
TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER



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Attorneys for a man convicted of murdering two people in Luzerne County when he was 15 will seek to overturn his life sentence based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.
The high court’s ruling, issued last month, means Kenneth Crawford, now 28, should be granted a new sentencing hearing for his first-degree murder convictions in the 1999 deaths of Diana Algar and Jose Molina, said Chief Public Defender Al Flora Jr.
Crawford is among an estimated 480 “juvenile lifers” in Pennsylvania who are expected to seek new sentences based on the ruling, said Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.
The JLC is working with the Defenders Association in Philadelphia to provide assistance to the inmates, who must filed appeals within 60 days of the Supreme Court ruling or they will lose their right to challenge their sentences, she said.
Crawford, of Oklahoma, was convicted in January 2001 of shooting Algar and Molina to death inside Algar’s camper at the Paradise Camp Resort in Hollenback Township on July 19, 1999. A co-defendant, David Lee Hanley, 18 at the time of the killings, pleaded guilty to first degree murder and is also serving a life sentence.
Police said Algar had befriended Crawford and Hanley after picking them up hitchhiking. The men, who were staying at Algar’s camper, beat and robbed Algar and Molina before fatally shooting them, police said.
Crawford, who was tried as an adult, was sentenced to life without the possibility parole, which is a mandatory sentence in Pennsylvania for first-degree murder and second degree murder.
In a June 25 decision, U.S. Supreme Court declared any law that sets a mandatory life sentence for defendants convicted of a murder committed when they were under age 18 to be “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Flora said the ruling means Crawford and others are entitled to a new sentencing hearing. It does not guarantee they will not receive the same sentence, however.
The Supreme Court ruling does not forbid a judge from sentencing a juvenile to life. It only precludes mandatory life sentences, requiring a judge to consider the defendant’s age and nature of the crime in fashioning the sentence, Flora said.
Flora said it’s not clear yet how the Crawford case and others like it in Pennsylvania will play out. He said he suspects county judges will review each of the cases and make a determination whether Pennsylvania’s law is constitutional, based on the Supreme Court precedent.
If a judge does declare the law unconstitutional, there remains an issue of how to resolve the matter because current Pennsylvania law does not allow a judge any discretion in sentencing for first and second degree murder.
“Because second- and first-degree murder mandate a life sentence, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. The judge does not have any discretion. We may need to change the law,” he said.
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a hearing for July 12 in Harrisburg to address that issue.

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