Criminal Justice

Nation's oldest, longest-serving juvenile lifer is released from prison at age 83

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The nation’s oldest, longest-serving juvenile lifer was released from prison this month at age 83, thanks to a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Joe Ligon served 68 years in a Pennsylvania prison after he was sentenced to life without parole at a one-day trial in 1953, the Washington Post reports. The state led the nation for putting the most youths behind bars for life without parole when the 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 violate the Eighth Amendment. In 2016, the Supreme Court said the 2012 decision is 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.

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 ABA 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.

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.

Updated Feb. 23 at 11:35 a.m. to correct the name of the pending Supreme Court case.

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