ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man's multiple life sentences amount to a de facto sentence of life without parole, which is not allowed since he wasn't yet 18 at the time of his crimes, the man's lawyer told the state Supreme Court on Monday.
Robert Veal was 17 when he and two others robbed Charles Boyer and Lisa McGraw at gunpoint near McGraw's apartment in Atlanta's Virginia-Highland neighborhood on the night of Nov. 22, 2010.
They demanded car keys, and McGraw gave them her purse. The couple then tried to run and McGraw made it to a neighbor's apartment, but Boyer remained outside and was shot to death, according to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case.
Several hours later, Veal and the others — Tamario Wise and Raphael Cross — drove up as a man was walking outside his apartment in the Grant Park neighborhood, a few miles away. They ordered him to take them to his apartment, where they raped and sodomized his roommate, the summary says.
DNA from the roommate's rape kit matched Veal.
Veal, Wise and Cross were all members of the Jack Boys gang, which is based in Atlanta's Pittsburgh neighborhood, according to evidence at trial. Cross testified against Veal and Wise, who were tried together in October 2012 and were convicted on charges including murder, rape, aggravated sodomy, kidnapping, false imprisonment, armed robbery and street gang participation.
Veal was sentenced to serve life in prison without parole for Boyer's murder, plus six additional life sentences to be served one after the other and another 60 years for other crimes. He appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that someone who was 17 or younger at the time of his crime cannot be given a life-without-parole sentence unless the trial court finds him to be "irreparably corrupt" or "permanently incorrigible."
The Georgia Supreme Court found that burden had not been met in Veal's case, tossed out his life-without-parole sentence and told the trial court to resentence him.
When Veal was resentenced in January, prosecutors didn't seek a life-without-parole sentence, but instead asked for two consecutive life-with-parole sentences for his murder conviction and one of the armed robbery conviction, plus the six life sentences and 60 additional years already in place.
Veal's lawyer argued his new sentence, in effect, amounted to a life sentence without parole because his first opportunity to be released on parole, which would come when he's 77, is beyond his natural life expectancy, according to life expectancy tables.
The trial court rejected that argument and sentenced Veal to a total of eight consecutive life sentences plus 60 years. His lawyer appealed that ruling, landing him in front of the Georgia Supreme Court again Monday.
"The issue really is what is a life-without-parole sentence?" Veal's lawyer, Stephen Reba said before the Supreme Court Monday. "Is it something purely that goes by name, by statute, or is it something that is more of a principle?"