A 33-year-old woman serving life without parole for the murder of a Panama City-area cab driver when she was 15 will get a new sentence under a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.
The court ordered new sentencing hearings for Rebecca Falcon and three other people who committed felonies as juveniles in order to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings that say juveniles can't be sent to prison for life if they haven't killed someone and life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for juvenile murderers.
The Florida high court is also giving anyone who received life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles two years to seek new sentences, which could affect about 200 people.
"This definitely gives hope to quite a few children," said Karen Gottlieb, a lawyer representing Falcon.
Falcon was a troubled high school student whose mother sent her from Leavenworth, Kansas, to Florida to live with her grandparents. She got drunk and snuck out of her grandparents' house in November 1997 to meet up with 18-year-old Clifton Gilchrist. They flagged down a cab, forced the driver to go to a secluded area and then shot him in the head in an attempted robbery, according to court records.
Falcon has since been repeatedly used as an example in the argument over whether child murderers should be locked away for life.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in an Alabama case that juveniles can't be sentenced to life without parole because, in part, their brains aren't fully developed and there's a better chance for reform than with adult offenders.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in Falcon's case that the U.S. Supreme Court decision should be applied retroactively.
"For Rebecca, we look at this an opportunity for her to demonstrate that she is one of those children who should not be serving life without parole, but at this point should be released," Gottlieb said. "She's served more than half her life behind bars and had no prior convictions at all. She's just been a stellar inmate."
The Florida high court also ordered a new sentencing hearing for Anthony Horsley, who was 17 when he was involved in a 2006 Palm Bay convenience store robbery that ended in the shooting death of the store's owner.
Two other people who received what amount to life sentences for felonies that didn't involve the death of the victims will also receive new sentencing hearings.
One is Leighdon Henry, who is serving a 90-year sentence for three rapes and five other felonies he committed in 2008 in Orange County when he was 17.
The other is Shimeeka Gridine, who is serving a 70-year-sentence for a 2009 attempted first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery and aggravated battery case in Jacksonville. He was 14 when he committed the crimes.