PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling could pave the way for the release of a man convicted in the death of a retired Philadelphia police officer. He was 17 years old when it happened. He got life in prison, but now he can walk free in as little 3 years.
Aaron Smith was 17-years-old when he was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1998 shooting death of Officer Frank King, but the Supreme Court later ruled that life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. Officer King was at a bar when Smith and two other men entered the bar planning to rob it. Despite being unarmed, he tried to stop them and was shot and killed. On Tuesday, a judge re-sentenced Smith—who did not fire and did not have a gun—to 22 years to life. Having served 19 years, he could be released in 3 years.
The family of Officer King requested a sentence of 30 years. They are not happy with the decision.
The other two men involved in the robbery and shooting continue to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office released the following statement:
"Our heart goes out to the family of retired Officer King, who lost his life some 20 years ago heroically resisting a robbery that occurred in a bar he was patronizing.
I and other high-level DAO supervisory personnel met with Officer King's son and spouse at length at his request. We appreciate his interest, questions and input. We are still following up on one of his requests. We also understand the re-traumatization families go through when re-sentencings of juvenile lifers take place as required by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that life sentences for juveniles violate the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court held it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to mandatory life sentences due to their immature brains, which make them less capable of consequential thinking and more capable of rehabilitation than adult offenders.
As a result of that ruling, only one of the men involved will be re-sentenced. He was a juvenile when the killing occurred almost 20 years ago. The two men who carried guns and used them that day continue to serve life in prison without any possibility of parole.
The defendant who is being re-sentenced did not fire, provide, or handle the gun used. He did not struggle with Officer King. He did not mastermind the robbery, lead it, or transport the other participants.
He was convicted of the lesser charge of Second Degree Murder, also known as felony murder, rather than pre-meditated murder (First Degree), because of his lower level of participation and culpability compared to other participants. The defendant's positive adjustment in custody and other important factors supporting the DAO's sentencing recommendation have also been considered, as required by the Supreme Court.
The sentencing recommendation of the Philly DAO, in this case, is consistent with other juvenile lifer re-sentencings by the Philadelphia courts. It is consistent with plea offers currently and previously given by the Philly DAO in this and prior administrations. It is consistent with the DAO's policy of evenhanded treatment and of using public resources to support services that actually prevent violent crime in the future--by making resources available for public education, drug and mental health treatment, economic and community development, and community policing. Finally, the sentencing recommendation by the DAO is also consistent with public safety as shown by the very low level of recidivism for juvenile lifers who have been re-sentenced and are no longer in custody in Pennsylvania."