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Divided court affirms life without parole for 17-year-old who killed younger brother

August 1, 2012

A 3-2 decision of the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a sentence of life without parole for a 17-year-old who killed his 10-year-old brother while babysitting and later dumped his body near a school in Rising Sun.

Justice Steven David wrote for the majority, affirming the Ohio Circuit Court sentence for Andrew Conley in the murder of Conner Conley.

“We hold that based on the age of Conley, the age of Conner, and the particularly heinous nature of the crime, a sentence of life without parole was appropriate,” David wrote for the majority that included Chief Justice Brent Dickson and Justice Mark Massa. “We hold that on the facts of this case, the sentence of life without parole is constitutional.”

“A seventeen-and-a-half-year-old caring for his ten-year-old brother murdered the defenseless child with his bare hands. After disposing of the body, Conley acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary,” David wrote. “He took steps to cover up the crime and hid his brother’s body in a park. The aggravating factor was clearly established and uncontroverted. The judge was within his discretion in weighing the mitigating factors in the manner in which he did.”

Justices Robert Rucker and Frank Sullivan Jr. dissented, saying they would have imposed a 65-year sentence, given Andrew Conley’s age and other mitigating factors.

“I do not believe the trial court manifestly abused its discretion in weighing aggravating and mitigating circumstances in this case. However, I do not agree Conley should have been sentenced to die in prison,” Rucker wrote.

Rucker’s dissent also points to research concluding that less than 6 percent of juveniles convicted in homicides receive sentences of life in prison without parole, and that the United States is the only country that doesn’t comply with the norm against imposing life without parole sentences on offenders under age 18. Indiana is one of 15 states allowing such sentences, Rucker wrote.

The dissent said the brutality of the crime wasn’t the only inquiry for the court, and noted Andrew Conley’s troubled upbringing and multiple attempted suicides. But he also had been a solid student with aspirations of going to college, no prior criminal record and a solid relationship with his family. Rucker also noted that the 17-year-old turned himself in the day after the killing.

“Conley was only seventeen at the time of this crime, and I find, as has the Supreme Court, that his age is relevant to the assessment of his character,” Rucker wrote. “It seems clear that Conley ‘was still a teenager with a developing brain and impulse control issues made worse by his mental illness.’”

Andrew Conley is only the fourth juvenile in Indiana to receive a sentence of life without parole.


 

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