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Appeals Court tosses life sentence for Grand Rapids teen killer | News

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Appeals Court tosses life sentence for Grand Rapids teen killer

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- A teen sentenced to life in prison for a 2013 gang-related murder will be resentenced following an Appeals Court ruling that juries — not judges — must decide whether someone under 18 gets life in prison without parole.

In an opinion published today, the state Court of Appeals says Devonte Warren is entitled to a new sentencing hearing because he was 17 when prosecutors charged him in the Grand Rapids shooting death of a rival gang member.

The Jan. 2013 murder of Gregory J. Woods on Neland Avenue near Thomas Street SE was to avenge a gang-related slaying that took place two years earlier.

Warren is the first person in Kent County to be sent back for re-sentencing in wake of a Michigan Court of Appeals decision in late August which rewrites the rules for life sentences involving teens convicted of murder.

It upended the long-standing practice allowing judges – not juries - to mete out punishment for people convicted of murders committed before their 18th birthday.

The landmark ruling was based on a mandatory life sentence handed down in St. Clair County for a college-bound honors student who was 17 when she plotted to have her father killed in 2010.

Tia Skinner was upset that her parents disapproved of her boyfriend, an 18-year-old who was also convicted. Paul Skinner was stabbed to death; his wife Mara Skinner survived 26 stab wounds.

Skinner was sentenced to life in prison without parole. But the appeals court, in a 2-1 decision on Aug. 20 ruled her constitutional rights were violated during the sentencing phase of the case.

A prosecutor seeking a no-parole sentence for teens convicted of first-degree murder must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime is a reflection of "irreparable corruption," the Appeals Court ruled.

If the jury believes that burden hasn't been met, the defendant would be sentenced to a term of years by a judge, the appeals court said.

A Kent County jury in April, 2014 found Warren guilty of first-degree murder following a week-long trial, making him eligible for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Judge Donald Johnston in June, 2014 sentenced him to a life term. Warren, now 19, is serving his sentence at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia. A new sentencing date has not been set.