CLINTON — A 57-year-old convicted killer who escaped from Angola and was free for almost a decade until he applied for a job as a policeman lost his chance at parole Monday when a judge re-sentenced him to life in prison, 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said.
A defense attorney for LeRoy Jenkins argued for a new sentence of life with parole while prosecutors fought for and won another life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Jenkins was 15 when he shot and killed 63-year-old Edward Trask in a rural area of East Feliciana Parish near the Mississippi state line in July 1971.
Jenkins later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.
Jenkins escaped from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in December 1973. He ended up in Chicago, where he got a job and settled down until he was arrested again in 1982, apparently after applying to be a police officer.
A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawed automatic life sentences for juvenile offenders. The court, in its 5-4 decision, ruled that states can no longer automatically impose life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles in murder cases, deeming that cruel and unusual punishment. That federal ruling, in a case called Miller v. Alabama, did not ban the punishment altogether.
In response, the Louisiana Legislature amended the sentencing law this year to give defendants such as Jenkins a chance for parole if a judge determines they are eligible and they meet a list of other conditions, including serving at least 35 years in prison.
In April, ad hoc Judge Jerome Winsberg granted Jenkins’ motion to vacate his original sentence.
D’Aquilla said Winsberg’s decision Monday to reimpose the sentence followed a two-hour hearing.
“I think the judge made the correct decision. He (Jenkins) is exactly where he needs to be and that is what’s appropriate,” D’Aquilla said.
Jenkins’ attorney, Jim Boren, said they were disappointed with the judge’s ruling.
“We think Leroy has demonstrated that after more than 30 years in prison he is not the same person he was when he was 15. I guess the judge didn’t see it that way,” Boren said.
Boren said had Winsberg ruled in Jenkins’ favor Monday, it would have a meant a hearing before the parole board, not an automatic release from prison.
Boren said Jenkins will appeal Winsberg’s decision to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. Boren also said there are two other possible legal avenues for Jenkins’ release.
Boren said there is a pending state lawsuit claiming that Jenkins’ original guilty plea should have never been accepted by the court because he didn’t have adequate legal defense at the time.
There is also a pending federal lawsuit asking the federal court to reverse the Jenkins sentence based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, Boren said.