Two of Whatcom County's most notorious teen killers filed petitions in February to have their life sentences reconsidered following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of aggravated murder.
The court ruled 5-4 last June that it is unconstitutional for states to have laws that require judges to sentence juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The ruling does not mean judges cannot hand down such sentences for juvenile killers, but it does mean that judges must have other sentencing options.
In Whatcom County, the ruling could affect Ryan Alexander, who used insulin to kill a neighbor boy in 2002, and Terry Weaver, who raped and killed a woman in 1996. Both were 16 at the time of the murders and were sentenced to life without parole after being convicted of aggravated first-degree murder.
They filed petitions for new sentences with the state Supreme Court in February.
Whether their petitions are considered depends on whether the state court decides to apply the U.S. Supreme Court ruling retroactively, said Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran.
If the court decides the ban on mandatory life sentences only applies to future cases, then the sentences of Weaver and Alexander can remain as they are. But if the ban applies to the cases, Weaver and Alexander would have to be resentenced, but won't go through a new trial.
Alexander killed an 8-year-old neighbor, Michael Busby Jr., in April 2002 in Bellingham. He took the boy to a field near their Jaeger Street homes and killed him by injecting him with a fatal dose of insulin. He also beat, cut and choked the boy.
Weaver killed 35-year-old neighbor Kellie L. Scott in her Birch Bay home in February 1996. He raped, beat and stabbed the woman and gave her a choice to die by stabbing or strangulation. He strangled her with a cord and then stabbed her several times in the throat. He wore his blood-covered jeans to school the next day.
"These were horrendous cases, and that's why they carry the penalty of life without possible parole," McEachran said.
The Washington Legislature is working on two bills that address sentencing for juveniles convicted of aggravated first-degree murder.
Senate Bill 5064 calls for a minimum sentence of no less than 30 years, with a judge determining if the minimum sentence should be longer, up to life without parole.
House Bill 1338 would set a minimum sentence of 20 to 25 years, with a maximum sentence of life. Defendants would become eligible for early release once they completed the minimum sentence. McEachran said the prosecutor's office does not favor that option.
If the state Supreme Court decides the federal ruling is retroactive, the prosecutor's office likely will wait until the Legislature makes a decision on sentencing guidelines before deciding how to handle the cases, McEachran said. If new hearings in both cases are needed, they might not occur until this summer, or later.
"We really do need the legislative framework, so then we'll know exactly how to handle this," McEachran said.