Iowa juvenile lifers get resentencings

Supreme Court banned automatic life without parole for juveniles last month

Trish Mehaffey
Published: July 11 2012 | 6:10 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 9:37 pm in
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The Iowa Court of Appeals overturned the first two life sentences of juveniles in the state Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that life without parole for offenders under 18 is “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Christine Lockheart, who was convicted at 17 in 1985 and Thomas Bennett, convicted at 17 in 1998, both for first-degree murder, will be resentenced. The District Court will have the opportunity to consider any mitigating evidence to determine the appropriate sentence.

Lockheart and Bennett are among 38 offenders in the state who are convicted as juveniles and serving life sentences without parole.

Of the 38 offenders, 30 were convicted of first-degree murder, four of first-degree kidnapping and one of first-degree sexual abuse, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections. There are 34 men and four women, and the offenders ranged in age from 14 to 17 when they committed the offense.

The only offenders convicted as juveniles in Linn County, David Keegan, 28, and Vanice Heath, 35, have not appealed their sentences of first-degree murder based on the new ruling.

Lockheart and her boyfriend were convicted in Scott County of stabbing to death a retired Davenport bus driver in 1985.

Bennett and two co-defendants were convicted in Polk County of shooting to death a disabled Des Moines man during a robbery in 1998.

According to the ruling, the Supreme Court 5-4 ruling last month didn’t impose a categorical ban on sentencing juvenile homicide offenders under age 18 to life without parole but it does require the sentencing court to consider all pertinent factors such as age and home environment.

The Supreme Court ruling didn’t state whether it applies to those already convicted or only future sentencings, but in Iowa anybody can argue for a different sentence at any time according to the illegal sentencing doctrine in Iowa Criminal Procedure.

University of Iowa School of Law professor Emily Hughes said the judges in the Lockheart and Bennett cases will have to consider a host of mitigating evidence before determining the appropriate sentences.

“Besides considering the specific facts of the crimes and age, they will consider their family life, life experiences, education,” Hughes said. “It’s wide open.”

Hughes said the mitigating evidence the defense could submit includes the offender’s ability to make a positive adjustment to imprisonment, their capacity for redemption and remorse, any mental health issues, explanations for patterns of behavior, employment, education, military service and family life.

Hughes said she couldn’t speculate what the sentences would be because they will be specific to that individual.

Area offenders convicted as juveniles and serving life sentence:

- David Keegan of Marion, convicted as 17-year-old in 2002 of first-degree murder and second-degree robbery in the death of pizza delivery man Greg Wells. Keegan stabbed and bludgeoned Wells when he made his delivery to Keegan’s Marion apartment.

- Vanice Heath of Chicago, convicted as 17-year-old in 1995 of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Kevin Eatman, 15, also of Chicago. Heath was one of three Chicago gang members convicted for the slaying of their rival gang member Eatman.

- Ruthann Veal, 33, of Waterloo, convicted as 14-year-old in 1993 of killing a retired librarian in Waterloo. She filed an appeal in 2010 challenging her sentence as cruel and unusual punishment. Her next hearing in that appeal is set for Thursday in Black Hawk County District Court.

- Matthew Payne, 30, of Waterloo, convicted as 17-year-old in 1999 of killing Karen Salisbury, 66, of Evansdale, whose body was found battered and covered in human bite marks. Payne filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence July 6.

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