Nearly 40 years after Eugene DeLuca was shot to death during a robbery, his granddaughters stood in a hushed Philadelphia courtroom.
“We never got the chance to call him Grandpop, feel his hugs, see his smile ... hear his laugh or hear him tell us he loves us,” Stephanie DeLuca said, her voice breaking. “The defendant murdered our grandfather and stole all those opportunities from us all.”
The women spoke in March to oppose the release of Joseph Evans, who was 17 when he walked into DeLuca’s men’s shop and drew a .38-caliber revolver.
DeLuca died at 54. A year earlier, his son, Joe, had dropped out of college to help open a second clothing store. After the shooting, the family closed both, in part over fears of another robbery; Joe began carrying a gun. DeLuca’s widow started drinking and spent the rest of her life as an alcoholic.
“My father lost his dad and then he basically lost his mother,” Denyse DeLuca, born the year after her grandfather’s death, said in an interview.
The sisters might have been open to Evans’ release if convinced of his remorse, they said. In court, he spoke little, explaining there was nothing he could say to undo DeLuca’s death. A judge approved the terms of negotiations between prosecutors and defense lawyers, resentencing Evans to 30 years to life and making him immediately eligible for parole. But the Pennsylvania parole board subsequently denied Evans’ release.
LOCKED UP FOR LIFE
Decades ago in the tough-on-crime ‘80s and ‘90s, many states — stoked by fears of teen “superpredators” — enacted laws to punish juvenile criminals like adults. The U.S. became an international outlier, sentencing offenders under 18 to live out their lives in prison for homicide and, sometimes, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery.
There has since been a shift. Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole for juveniles in murder cases. Then last year, the court went further, saying the more than 2,000 already serving such sentences must get an opportunity chance to show their crimes did not reflect “irreparable corruption” and, if not, have some hope for freedom.
The January 2016 ruling set the stage for an unprecedented second look at hundreds and hundreds of cases, some many decades old now, in courtrooms across America. The Associated Press leveraged its reporting power in all 50 states to examine how judges and prosecutors, lawmakers and parole boards are now revisiting juvenile lifer cases. Many have been resentenced and released, with more hearings continuing in the days, weeks and months ahead. But in some states, officials have delayed review of cases or fought to keep the vast majority of their affected inmates locked up for life.