56 youthful offenders may get hearings after court ruling

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ highest court ruled Thursday that an inmate serving life without parole for a killing he was convicted of as a juvenile deserves a new sentencing hearing, a move that opens the door for new sentences for 55 other former youthful offenders.

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a Lee County judge’s order granting a new sentencing hearing for Ulonzo Gordon, who was convicted of capital murder in the 1994 slaying of a West Memphis man. In the unanimous ruling, justices ruled that a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting mandatory life without parole sentences for youthful offenders should apply retroactively.

An attorney for Gordon said the ruling means all 56 inmates in Arkansas serving life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles are entitled to new sentencing hearings.

“It should affect all the others. All the others were being held up pending the decision on retroactivity,” said Jeff Rosenzweig, who is representing most of the 56 former juvenile offenders.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office said it was reviewing the court’s decision.

“Only those inmates who were juveniles when they were sentenced to serve a ‘mandatory’ life sentence are affected by today’s decision in Kelley v. Ulonzo Gordon,” Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said in an email. “The attorney general’s office continues to review this decision from the State Supreme Court.”

Justices said Gordon was entitled to the same relief as Kuntrell Jackson, an Arkansas inmate who was given a new sentence as a result of the 2012 U.S. high court ruling.

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By Andrew Demillo The Associated Press June 18, 2015