Four-dozen men who fell through the cracks are destined to die in prison. The hopes of possible release died last week when a House committee killed HB1287, a bill that would have made a law enacted in 2006 retroactive.
The prison inmates are serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were juveniles.
Many of the life without parole sentences were a response to the gang violence that erupted in Colorado cities in the early 1990s. More juveniles were tried as adults and given mandatory prison sentences, including life. A first-degree murder conviction mandates life without parole.
For juveniles in Colorado, the law changed in 2006 when the Legislature passed a bill capping the longest sentence that could be given a juvenile at 40 years. However, the law did not apply to juveniles sentenced to life without parole between 1991 and 2006.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles couldn’t be sentenced to life without parole for crimes other than murder.
Of the 48 inmates serving life sentences in state prisons for crimes they committed as children, about one-third were convicted of murder.
Phillip Michael Montoya of Pueblo is one of the 48. He and David Carrillo were found guilty of first-degree murder in the gang-related slaying of Chris Romo in June 1993 and are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Montoya was 16 years old at the time of the crime; Carrillo was 19.
Carrillo’s appeal of his conviction was heard in District Judge David Crockenberg’s court in February. Carrillo said he received inadequate legal counsel in his defense. Crockenberg has not yet ruled in the case.
Montoya’s juvenile status gave him a slim hope for the possibility of parole when in August 2007, former Gov. Bill Ritter formed the Juvenile Clemency Board by executive order. Its mission was to review clemency and commutation requests by juveniles who were tried as adults and sentenced to state prison.