An appeals court cited the “atrocity” of his June 2010 crime in rejecting Trevor Reese’s argument that a sentence of life in prison without parole was too harsh a penalty for the throat-slashing death of an 8-year-old boy on a recreation trail in The Bluffs on Thompson Creek in St. Francisville.
Reese was a 16-year-old Baton Rouge Magnet High School student at the time of the vicious fatal attack on Jackson “Jack” Attuso, of Clinton. He cut the boy’s throat with a box cutter.
Reese, 20, dropped his insanity defense and pleaded guilty in March 2013 to a second-degree murder charge. Twentieth Judicial District Judge William Carmichael sentenced him in August to life behind bars without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.
A three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge affirmed Reese’s conviction and sentence Wednesday, dismissing his arguments that the sentence is unconstitutionally excessive and that Carmichael erred in imposing the harshest punishment available.
“We find the murder of a small child to be the worst crime and the defendant to be the worst offender,” Circuit Judge Ernest Drake wrote for the panel. “The defendant laid in wait, grabbed the boy and relentlessly attacked him as the boy struggled for his life. The defendant cut his neck, then chased his victim and cut his neck again.”
Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla applauded the appellate court’s ruling.
“We’re really glad that justice prevailed,” he said. “Everybody’s relieved that the court of appeal ruled like that.”
Lance Unglesby, one of Reese’s attorneys, said the Louisiana Supreme Court will be asked to review the matter.
D’Aquilla said he’s confident Reese’s conviction and sentence will withstand further court scrutiny.
Reese, who was originally charged with first-degree murder, was not eligible for the death penalty because he was a juvenile when he killed Attuso. He was sentenced to life without parole following an August sentencing hearing.
Carmichael was obligated by law to conduct the hearing to consider whether Reese should be eligible for parole at some time in the future because of his youthful age at the time of the crime.
The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June 2012 that states, including Louisiana, can no longer automatically sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole in murder cases without first holding a sentencing hearing to consider the defendant’s youth, upbringing, circumstances of the crime and other factors.
In direct response to that ruling, the Louisiana Legislature approved a measure during the 2013 regular session requiring a sentencing judge to hold a hearing to determine whether the sentence should be imposed with or without parole eligibility. If a sentence is imposed with eligibility for parole, the legislation gives incarcerated offenders a shot at freedom after serving 35 years for first- or second-degree murder, according to the legislation that the governor signed into law.
“We respect the decision of the First Circuit. It is based on the law enacted by the Legislature,” Unglesby said. “But nationwide the treatment of juveniles is becoming more humane, and I am confident that our current law will be found unconstitutional by the United State Supreme Court.”
Unglesby described Louisiana’s law as “draconian” and said it “lacks the foresight of a society that has evolved in its thinking about how to handle juveniles.”
In its 10-page decision, the 1st Circuit panel said Reese left the scene as Attuso lay dying in his blood June 10, 2010.
“Given the violence and brutality of the crime, the maximum sentence was justified in this case. The fact the defendant was a first-time offender does little to mitigate the atrocity of the crime,” Drake wrote.
Reese also contended Carmichael failed to take into account his youth when sentencing him, gave no weight to evidence of his potential for growth and rehabilitation, and allowed improper victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing.
The appellate court concluded Carmichael did consider Reese’s age and the possibility of rehabilitation.
“The trial court learned the defendant came from a good, solid family, was highly intelligent and attended Baton Rouge Magnet High School,” Drake noted. “The trial court also learned the defendant showed no remorse after stabbing J.A., and the defendant wanted to be a serial killer.”
Reese testified at his sentencing hearing that he attacked the boy “because he was weaker than me. I’m a weak person. I was too scared to attack anyone stronger. OK? I’m terrible, I’m a monster, it was evil. I know that,” according to the appeals court decision.
Several medical professionals also testified at Reese’s sentencing hearing that he had a fascination with the protagonist in the television series “Dexter” and saw the serial killer presented as a hero and Robin Hood figure.
Attuso’s father asked for the maximum sentence at the hearing, and the boy’s grandfather described his hatred toward Reese and said if he ever left prison he hoped it would “be feet first in a pine box.”
“It must be noted that surely the trial court regarded the testimony of these victim impact witnesses as normal human reactions to the death of a loved one,” Drake wrote for the panel that included fellow Circuit Judges Randolph Parro and John Michael Guidry. “That the victim’s survivors might have little or no sympathy for the defendant certainly would come as no surprise to the trial court.”