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Thomas v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 14, 2014

Arthur THOMAS a/k/a Arthur Ray Thomas, Jr. a/k/a Arthur Ray Thomas, Appellant
v.
STATE of Mississippi, Appellee.

Robert B. McDuff, Sibyl Byrd, Jacob Wayne Howard, Jackson, attorneys for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Stephanie Breland Wood, attorney for appellee.

Page 158

Before GRIFFIS, P.J., ROBERTS and FAIR, JJ.

FAIR, J.

¶ 1. Arthur Thomas seeks the retroactive benefit of Miller v. Alabama, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), and its companion case, Jackson v. Hobbs. In those consolidated cases, the United States Supreme Court held that a sentence of life without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide, without more, violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

¶ 2. Following the recent pronouncements of our state's highest court, we remand Thomas's case to the Circuit Court of Copiah County " for a new sentencing hearing to be conducted consistently with [the Mississippi Supreme] Court's opinion in Parker [v. State, 119 So.3d 987 (Miss.2013) ]." Jones v. State, 122 So.3d 698, 703 (¶ 18) (Miss.2013).

FACTS

¶ 3. Thomas was seventeen years old on October 16, 1996, when he and Henry Lee Sanders robbed a small grocery store in Copiah County. The robbery went bad, and Sanders, who went into the store while Thomas remained in their vehicle, shot and killed one of the store employees and wounded the other.

¶ 4. Thomas pled guilty on March 25, 1997, to one count of capital murder and one count of aggravated assault. On the capital murder charge, the circuit court sentenced him to life in prison without eligibility for parole, pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated sections 97-3-21(3) (Rev.2006) and 47-7-3(1)(h) (Rev.2006). Thomas also received a sentence of twenty years for aggravated assault, to run consecutively.

¶ 5. Thomas points out that he had no prior felony convictions. He has served seventeen years in prison since the robbery occurred and is now age thirty-four, twice the age when he robbed the store.

¶ 6. Thomas has filed two prior motions for post-conviction collateral relief (PCR), in 1997 and 1999. On both occasions, filing pro se, Thomas claimed he was innocent because he did not know that his companion, Sanders, was going to rob the store. In neither prior PCR case did Thomas pursue an appeal.

¶ 7. In November 2012, Thomas filed his third pro se PCR motion, this time adding the argument that his life sentence without parole for capital murder was unconstitutional under the recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012). In Graham, the Supreme Court held that " [t]he Constitution prohibits the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide." Graham, 130 S.Ct. at 2034. In Miller, it held that " the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2469.

¶ 8. The circuit court did not reach the merits of Thomas's claim for relief under Miller. Instead, it ruled that his claim was procedurally barred because the rule of law announced in Miller is not " retroactive." Counsel of ...


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