NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The Louisiana Parole Board granted parole Wednesday to Henry Montgomery, whose Supreme Court case was instrumental in expanding freedom for hundreds of people sentenced to life without parole when they were minors.
Montgomery, 75, was convicted of the 1963 murder of East Baton Rouge Deputy Sheriff Charles Hurt, who caught him skipping school. Montgomery was then 17 years old. He was originally sentenced to death, but the state Supreme Court overturned his sentence in 1966, arguing that his trial was not fair. The case was re-examined, Montgomery was again found guilty, but this time sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He served several decades in the Louisiana State Prison in Angola.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders is “cruel and unusual” punishment. But this did not resolve the question of whether this decision is applied retroactively or only to the cases that will be considered.
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In 2016, the Supreme Court settled the matter when it tried the Montgomery case and extended its ruling on such sentences to those already in prison.
This decision led to a wave of new sentences and the release of prisoners from Michigan to Pennsylvania, Arkansas and other countries. Since the Montgomery court ruling, about 800 people sentenced to life in prison without parole in their teens have been released, according to the Juvenile Justice Campaign.
Montgomery was re-sentenced to life on parole, and the state judge who re-sentenced Montgomery called him a “model prisoner” who appears to have been rehabilitated. But this did not lead to immediate freedom. The parole board has rejected his application twice in the past. He was last denied parole in 2019.
Montgomery will be placed under the tutelage of the Louisiana Parole Project, which was created in 2016 by former life-sentenced minors to help people who served long prison sentences – typically 20 years or more – return to society. The organization helps ex-prisoners with housing, enrollment for medical care or drugs, obtaining an identity card and training in community orientation.
Hurt, the deputy sheriff that Montgomery killed, was married and had three children. His two daughters met with Montgomery in prison and forgave him, but family members opposed his release.