St. Louis Judge Who Sentenced Teen to 241 Years Now Asks for His Freedom

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Bobby Bostic poses with a certificate from Missouri State University. - PHOTO VIA FREEBOBBYBOSTIC.COM
  • PHOTO VIA FREEBOBBYBOSTIC.COM
  • Bobby Bostic poses with a certificate from Missouri State University.

When Judge Evelyn Baker sentenced Bobby Bostic to 241 years in prison, she did so with the dry finality of an executioner. And while the law didn't consider it a formal "life sentence," in a practical light, that's exactly what it was.

"You're gonna die with your choice," Baker told Bostic, condemning him to a combined 241 years in prison for his involvement in a pair of robberies he'd committed in 1995 at the tender age of sixteen. Technically, he had a parole date — in the year 2201. Baker pointed out the obvious. "Nobody in this room is going to be alive in the year 2201."

But two decades later, Baker, now a retired judge, has lent her name to a list of 26 former judges and prosecutors who want the U.S. Supreme Court to review Bostic's case in light of recent decisions by the country's highest court. The court has now prohibited states from sentencing juveniles who haven't killed anyone to life without possibility of parole. And Bostic, Baker says, should qualify.

"At the time that I sentenced Bobby Bostic, the laws were different." Baker said in a statement released today by the ACLU of Missouri. "It was constitutional to execute a juvenile. When I sentenced Bobby there had been no studies on how the brain developed. We simply did not know then what we know now about juveniles."

See also: Bobby Bostic, Sentenced as a Teen to 241 Years, Appeals to U.S. Supreme Court

The crimes the teenaged Bostic helped commit were shocking. On December 12, 1995, he and an eighteen-year-old accomplice robbed a group of people on a charity mission, delivering items to a needy family before Christmas. One of the victims handed Bostic $500, but even so Bostic shot him in the side. A second victim was dealt with in a similarly callous manner by Bostic's accomplice — shot only after handing over his wallet. Both victims survived.

And that same night, the two teens carjacked a woman who was also out delivering gifts. Shortly afterward Bostic and the accomplice were caught.

But the two teens took different paths on the way to sentencing. The older accomplice, Donald Hutson, pleaded guilty in return for a 30-year sentence, meaning he'll be eligible for parole as soon as this year. Bostic was offered the same deal, but he decided to take his case to trial. And there he ran into Judge Baker.

Facing eighteen counts related to the armed robberies, the judge opted for the harshest possible sentencing arrangement, ruling that Bostic would serve prison time for each crime consecutively, one after the other. That added up to 241 years.

At sentencing, Baker bluntly told the teenager that he only had himself to blame for his position. Her remarks were included in a 2014 feature by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"I feel nothing for you," Baker said during the sentencing hearing in 1997. "I feel the same thing for you that you apparently felt for those victims and you feel for your family."

Baker retired in 2008. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that states could not sentence juveniles who hadn't murdered anyone to life in prison without parole. States, the justices ruled, were required to provide "a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

But in spite of the math of Bostic's sentencing, he wasn't technically sentenced to life in prison. That has been a huge problem for him and his advocates. The Missouri Supreme Court denied his lawyers' request for a review, ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court decision didn't apply because that case dealt only with defendants convicted of a single charge resulting in a life sentence — not, as in Bostic's case, a slew of non-fatal crimes stacked back-to-back.

Bostic's lawyers argue that the result is effectively same, and that Missouri's refusal to reconsider his sentence violates his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. In effect, he's been sentenced to death by way of semantics. In today's press release, Baker urged the U.S. Supreme Court to look "at the totality of the sentence, not the title."

"I told him when I sentenced him that he was going to spend his life in the
Missouri Department of Corrections," she noted. "So, it was a life sentence. In fact, it was life-plus.”

In an interview with the Intercept published Saturday, Baker has expressed hope that Bostic gets another chance.

“I hope he gets out,” she said. “I hope he’s learned something. I hope he has a chance to live in the real world, continue with his education, have a family, get a job, have a mortgage. Have a chance to have a life. He’s grown up in prison.”

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com