A Baton Rouge man once on death row and currently serving a life prison term for the 1992 execution-style killing of an LSU freshman now has a "path to parole" that he did not have before, his attorney says.

That path, according to Dale Dwayne Craig's appellate lawyer, came through recently enacted state legislation that expands parole eligibility for certain juvenile offenders.

Craig, 46, was a week shy of his 18th birthday when he fatally shot Kipp Earl Gullett, 18, of Pineville, after carjacking him from the Kirby Smith Hall dormitory parking lot Sept. 15, 1992.

Gullett was killed at an isolated construction site on South Kenilworth Parkway after he was beaten, pistol-whipped and had begged for his life, according to trial testimony.

Craig wanted Gullett's Ford Bronco, prosecutors argued.

House Bill 173 of this year's regular legislative session, which the governor signed into law in June as Act 99 and which took effect Aug. 1, added a new subsection to a 2017 statute dealing with parole eligibility.

The new subsection reads as follows: "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, any person serving a term or terms of imprisonment that result in a period of incarceration of twenty-five years or more and who was under the age of eighteen years at the time of the commission of the offense shall be eligible for parole consideration pursuant to the provisions of this Subsection if all of the following conditions have been met."

One of those conditions requires the offender to have served at least 25 years of the sentence imposed.

"Mr. Craig has served 26 years of a life sentence for a crime committed when he was a child," New Orleans lawyer John Landis, who represents Craig, states in a motion filed at the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

The motion asks the court to declare that Craig is parole eligible under La. R.S. 15:574.4(J) — the new subsection that went into effect in August — and that he will be entitled to a parole hearing once he satisfies the conditions spelled out in Act 99.

Landis acknowledges that another subsection, La. R.S. 15:574(A)(2), of the 2017 parole eligibility statute excluded persons serving life sentences "unless the sentence has been commuted to a fixed term of years."

But Landis argues that the word "notwithstanding" in La. R.S. 15:574.4(J) trumps the language of La. R.S. 15:574(A)(2).

"The 'notwithstanding' clause at the beginning of 15:574.4(J) specifies that the statute supersedes any other law with which it may conflict, removing any doubt that 15:574.4(J) is the prevailing statute in this area of law," he writes.

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"This new subsection of the statute clearly and unambiguously extends parole eligibility to individuals like Mr. Craig, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes they committed while they were juveniles," Landis claims.

Cory Dennis, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jeff Landry, said Tuesday that the Attorney General's Office intends to respond to Craig's motion "at the appropriate time."

Landis, who declined to elaborate on his motion, points out in the filing that there is a difference between being parole eligible under a statute and being subject to immediate parole.

The new parole eligibility subsection that took effect Aug. 1 includes requirements that must be met before an inmate may be set for a parole hearing, he says.

"The ability to get a parole hearing is triggered once the ... requirements are met," he writes. "In other words, R.S. 15:574.4(J) provides Mr. Craig a path to obtaining parole." 

Some of the other requirements are that the offender has obtained a "low-risk level designation" determined by a validated risk assessment tool approved by the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections secretary; and that the offender has completed a reentry program to be determined by DPSC.

An East Baton Rouge Parish jury convicted Craig of first-degree murder in 1994 and condemned him to die, but the U.S. Supreme Court later turned the death sentence into a life term when it struck down the death penalty for juvenile killers.

Craig is currently awaiting a Supreme Court-mandated resentencing.

The high court ruled in 2012 that automatic life prison terms for juvenile killers are unconstitutional and said they are entitled to hearings to try to show they are capable of reform.

The Attorney General's Office is advocating for a sentence of life without parole for Craig.

Three others ranging in age from 16 to 19 at the time of Gullett's death were convicted in the case: James Conrad Lavigne was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life; and Roy Maurer and Zebbie Berthelot pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received 20-year prison terms.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.