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Pa. forced to review juvenile sentences
By altoonamirror.com - Phil Ray
Published: 07/02/2012

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is putting together a list that includes hundreds of inmates who were sentenced to life without parole for killings they committed when they were juveniles, a state-mandated sentence the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last week.

It is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for a state to automatically impose life without parole on a juvenile who has been convicted of murder, the high court ruled in a 5-4 decision.

In Pennsylvania, such a sentence is mandated for a juvenile who has been convicted of first- or second-degree murder.

The list includes James "Frankie" Rodgers of Altoona, convicted of stabbing 72-year-old Pasquale Lascoli between 70 and 80 times during a home invasion 24 years ago.

It also includes four inmates from Clearfield County, including Jessica Holtmeyer, who was only 16 when she helped murder Kimberly Dotts.

Others from Clearfield County include Andrew Callahan, recently retried and convicted for the murder of Micah Pollock; Christopher Weatherill, who was an accomplice in the murder of a woman kidnapped from a mall in DuBois; and Timothy Hanson, convicted for the killing of David Smith on Christmas Eve 1987 after escaping from a juvenile facility.

The state list is still being put together, and other organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch indicate the list of such inmates is much larger, Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said.

One of the individuals who might be missing from that list is Leonard Bocchicchio of Altoona, who used a bowling ball on Dec. 7, 1980, to kill 75-year-old Elwood Figard, the owner of the former Penn Classic Bowling Lanes on East Pleasant Valley Boulevard.

Bocchicchio was only 17 at the time of the murder. It took police several years to solve the Bocchicchio case.

A mandated sentence takes discretion out of the hands of the judge, depriving the judge of the ability to consider mitigating circumstances that juveniles can't control, like their home lives, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.

The sentence deprives the judge the ability to assess a juvenile's "capacity for change," which it was concluded is greater in a child.

The cases before the Supreme Court focused on two juveniles who were only 14 when they killed.

Kagan's opinion stated that a state is not required to guarantee a juvenile's freedom but "must provide some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, stating that "decency is not the same as leniency. A decent society protects the innocent from violence."

"It is a great tragedy when a juvenile commits murder - most of all for the innocent victims," Roberts said.

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