Resentencing could be county’s 1st since high court’s ruling on juvenile offenders.

By: Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune: April 14th, 2015

Adolfo Davis lived in a crawl space with dirt floors and was raised by a loving but illiterate grandmother who struggled to meet his most basic needs, like cooking or doing laundry, according to a grim picture that emerged at the Chicago man’s resentencing.

The testimony came Monday at what is believed to be the first hearing in Cook County following a U.S. Supreme Court decision finding mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional. Some 80 inmates in Illinois could be resentenced as a result. Davis, now 38, was 14 when he was given the life sentence for a double murder more than two decades ago.

The hearing played out late into Monday night in Judge Angela Petrone’s packed courtroom.

“I’m just praying you find it in your heart to give me a second chance,” Davis told the judge.

Prosecutors want Davis resentenced to life in prison for the 1990 homicides. They grilled defense witnesses for lengthy periods in often-contentious exchanges and challenged how well they knew Davis and the case.

“This defendant was not a naive, scared, merely present lookout,” said Assistant State’s Attorney James McKay, telling the judge that Davis was fully involved in planning the murders and even fired a gun. “The defendant was a shooter, an executioner.”

Davis’ attorneys are seeking his immediate release, arguing that he was a troubled youth who was lured into the violent gang activity a quarter of a century ago.

“He was a follower,” said attorney Patricia Soung. “He had a desperate need for a sense of belonging.”

In his more than two decades in prison, Davis has rehabilitated himself, Soung said. In testimony Monday, witnesses for Davis said he had renounced his membership in the Gangster Disciples, earned an education behind bars and written poetry.

“The question today is how much punishment is enough,” Soung told the judge.

Davis showed little reaction throughout the high-stakes hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago.

In testimony Monday, one survivor, Melvin Harvey, 48, recalled ducking for cover in 1990 but insisted the shooting had changed him forever.

“I’ll never be the same man, mentally or physically,” he said.

But most of the hearing dealt with how Davis’ troubled background led to his decision as an eighth-grader to help rob a South Side drug stash house in 1990 and whether he has truly reformed himself in prison.

An Illinois Department of Corrections official outlined Davis’ discipline history — assaults, a threat on a warden and alleged gang activity, including an informant’s tip that Davis was passing gang messages for the Gangster Disciples as recently as in 2013. McKay called Davis’ behavior behind bars “outrageous.”

But a former prison counselor testified that Davis was motivated to make changes despite potential mental health issues.

“He expressed guilt and regret about the crime,” Jill Stevens testified. “Most inmates give no thought to victims.”

Cassandra Jackson, a social worker who investigated the Davis home when Davis was 11 or 12, described walking into the basement apartment with dirt floor in spots.

“It was suitable for no one,” Jackson said.

Closing arguments ended about 10 p.m., and the judge set a court date for May 4.

The 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision built on an increasing body of scientific and social research that found that the brains of teens were less developed than those of adults, giving them less impulse control, and that youths were susceptible to peer pressure and other forces that could lead them to commit heinous crimes without considering their consequences.

Some of the state’s most notorious murderers will be among the inmates expected to be given new sentencing hearings: David Biro, who was 16 in 1990 when he forced a pregnant woman and her husband into the basement of their Winnetka home and shot them as they pleaded for their lives, and Christopher Churchill, who was 16 in 1998 when he used a hammer to kill his half-brother, the man’s girlfriend and her three children in southern Illinois.

But the sentencing hearings no doubt will reopen emotional wounds for the families of victims.

The sentencings were mandatory for the juveniles because of their convictions on multiple murders or other factors. Most of the convictions came in the 1980s and ’90s.

Some of the inmates will point to the fact that they played lesser roles in the murders and were convicted under laws that held them accountable. Many are the products of poverty and abuse, the kind of information that could not be considered when they were originally sentenced but will be in the new hearings.