PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island asked the state’s highest court Friday to order the release on parole of two men convicted as teenagers of murder and sentenced to life in prison, saying they are being held in violation of a new state law.
The ACLU said Pablo Ortega and Joao Neves are being held by the state Department of Corrections in violation of the law enacted last year that says “any person sentenced for any offense prior to his or her twenty-second birthday” is eligible for parole after serving 20 years.
Neves, convicted of first-degree murder in 2000, was 16 at the time of his offenses, the ACLU said. Ortega was sentenced in 2002 for a killing the year before when he was 19, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU in the petitions said the statute, sometimes called Mario’s law, was intended to give youthful offenders “an opportunity to demonstrate that they have matured from the person who committed the underlying crimes in their early years.”
The petitions seek Neves’ and Ortega’s immediate release from custody, subject to conditions placed on them by the Parole Board, which has already granted parole to both men on the life sentences.
The ACLU said the Department of Corrections is holding the men because they have yet to complete shorter consecutive prison sentences for other convictions.
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said the agency is reviewing the petitions.
The department’s interpretation of the law is “absurd and illogical, contrary to the express terms of the Act and effectively operates to nullify its terms and defeat its purposes,” the ACLU said.
“Release on parole can only mean release,” not “parole to a consecutive sentence,” the petitions said.
“When the Legislature enacted Mario’s law last year they did so after acknowledging that scientific literature shows that our brains do not fully develop until the age of 25,” ACLU cooperating attorney Sonja Deyoe said in a statement. “The law unambiguously states after 20 years in prison a young offender will be eligible for a parole permit if they are not eligible earlier. The DOC’s baseless interpretation of the law allows it to continue to punish an inmate who has already served his time.”