Over a defense attorney’s objections but under orders from a state appeals court, a judge Wednesday scheduled a May 3 sentencing hearing for an 18-year-old Baton Rouge man convicted last year in the 2011 slaying of three people in two separate shootings in Scotlandville.
G’Quan “Tuttie” Baker was 16 at the time of the killings of Ashley London, 19, on June 29, 2011, and Jessica Parker, 25, and Kevin Bowie, 32, on July 29, 2011.
The hearing is expected to be the first in Louisiana since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in an Alabama case that states cannot automatically impose sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole on juveniles in murder cases.
The high court said a sentencing hearing must be held where a judge considers a number of factors, including the defendant’s age, his family and home environment, and the circumstances of the crime.
“If there’s ever a defendant who deserves that sentence (of life without possibility of parole), it’s Mr. Baker,” East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Leila Braswell argued Wednesday to state District Judge Don Johnson.
Ronald Haley, one of Baker’s attorneys, urged Johnson “to be patient” and further delay scheduling a sentencing hearing until the Legislature, which began a two-month session Monday, has time to consider a bill that would require a juvenile offender to serve 50 years of a life sentence before becoming eligible for parole. The measure is backed by the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association
“I believe it’s wiser to wait ... but I follow orders ... even if I disagree,” the judge replied.
Those orders came March 25 from a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, which said Johnson erred in staying Baker’s sentencing indefinitely.
“The matter is remanded to the trial court to sentence the defendant after first conducting a sentencing hearing in accordance with the principals enunciated in Miller v. Alabama,” the panel stated.
Johnson asked Wednesday if any sentencing hearings have been conducted in Louisiana in response to the Miller ruling, and Braswell said there have been none.
“This is much bigger than Mr. Baker and his crimes,” Haley said after court. “This is precedent.”
Braswell prosecuted Baker and his 28-year-old co-defendant, Preston Nelson, who was found guilty in July of three counts of second-degree murder and ordered by Johnson to serve two consecutive life sentences. Baker was convicted in September.
A life prison term without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence is still automatic in Louisiana for those convicted of second-degree murder who were 18 years old or older when the crime was committed.
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections has said there are 281 inmates in state prison who could be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision.