Freeman Brothers' Mandatory Life Sentences Remain, For Now
Lehigh County Judge Douglas Reichley said it would be 'inappropriate' for the court to take up Freeman brothers' petition on the unconstitutionality of their sentences until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviews other juvenile killers' sentences.
A Lehigh County judge ruled today the Freeman brothers' 1995 mandatory life sentence without parole should remain, pending a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on two other convicted juvenile killers' life sentence appeals, including one by Qu'eed Batts of Easton.
Judge Douglas G. Reichley continued a 2010 stay issued by Judge Lawrence J. Brenner on a previous appeal of the Freemans' mandatory life sentences under the Post Conviction Relief Act.
Reichley said it would be "inappropriate" to take up the petitions filed by Bryan and David Freeman's attorneys without further guidance by the higher court on new sentencing procedures for juveniles convicted of homicide.
Neither Freeman brother was present in court today and remain in state prison.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June on Miller vs. Alabama held that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide are unconstitutional, the sentences of thousands of prisoners are in question.
The Pennsylvania Legislature is expected to draft juvenile sentencing procedures and both House and Senate lawmakers have begun hearings.
At issue is whether the sentences should be mandatory, not whether juveniles convicted of homicide can get life sentences.
Charles Banta, attorney for David Freeman, argued that a mandatory life sentence for his client is cruel and unusual punishment. Banta told the judge he believed he has the power to vacate the sentence and to re-sentence him.
"To what?" responded Lehigh County Senior Assistant District Attorney Heather Gallagher.
"Vacate and reimpose the same sentence?" Reichley asked.
Banta said he did not think there was any judge in the Court of Common Pleas "who wants to step in that hole."
Gallagher argued there are cases that set a precedent to stay the sentence.
"If you vacate the sentence we'd have to schedule the re-sentencing," Gallagher said. "It's just not fair to the family of the victims."
The Freeman brothers of Salisbury Township and a cousin were convicted in 1995 of killing the Freemans' parents, Dennis and Brenda, and their 11-year-old brother, Erik. The case made headlines for its savagery---the family was stabbed and bludgeoned to death--- and for the brothers' neo-Nazi beliefs and tattoos. Bryan Freeman was 17 and David was 16 when they murdered their family.
Gallagher said after the hearing that if the Legislature decides that juveniles convicted of homicide can petition for parole, it leaves open the possibilty for re-sentencing and including mitigating factors.