By Patsy R. Brumfield
Brett Jones, who turned 24 Tuesday, is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for the stabbing death of his grandfather in the Palmetto community.
The Mississippi Supreme Court today vacated his sentence and ordered the case back to Lee County for re-sentencing.
The high court’s decision is based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it’s constitutionally unfair to mandate sentence of a juvenile to life in prison without possibility of parole.
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The nation’s highest court said that’s what mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole is for a juvenile.
The 6-3 Mississippi decision was written by Justice Michael Randolph.
Jones was 15 when he stabbed his grandfather, 68-year-old Bertis Jones.
Brett Jones testified that his grandfather came at him in the kitchen and cornered him. He claimed he stabbed his grandfather in self-defense.
Prosecutors claimed the teenager was a troubled youth and got angry when his grandfather disapproved of his girlfriend.
He was convicted in Lee County of the 2004 stabbing and first appealed in late 2009.
In his dissent Justice James Kitchens of Crystal Springs, joined by justices David Chandler and Leslie King, said it’s the state’s parole statute that violates the Supreme Court decision, not the murder statute, and says he would adopt an approach taken by the Wyoming Supreme Court to hold unconstitutional the law as it applies to juveniles convicted of murder.
However, Kitchens writes that the majority’s decision vacating Jones’ sentence merely sends it back to Lee County to be sentenced to life or life without parole, ignoring the “distinctions between capital murder and murder.”
He says it is clear the U.S. Supreme Court decision requires the Mississippi court to find the statute unconstitutional as applied to juveniles convicted of murder.
A former district attorney, Kitchens insists circuit courts have no other authority to impose anything other than a life sentence upon conviction of murder.
• Come back for more details as I work through the Mississippi Supreme Court decisioto