GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was once thought they would never see life outside a prison cell. But thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, hundreds of juvenile lifers in Michigan are now getting a second chance at freedom.
Friday morning, three of them in Kent County were granted new sentences and the opportunity for parole.
It was a frigid February night in 1996 when then 16-year-old Saulo Montalvo and two other teens carried out what’s since been called a “planned execution” — the horrific murder and robbery of store clerk Rodney Corp.
Montalvo was the getaway driver — he didn’t even enter the store — but was still convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life prison without parole.
Years later, and full of remorse, he reached out to Corp’s family asking for forgiveness. Ever since, they’ve been trying to free him. They questioned the punishment, given Montalvo’s role in the crime.
Friday, he finally got his day in court.
“I am truly grateful to them for their forgiveness, and for reaching out to me. Even when I don’t deserve it,” Montalvo said of Corp’s family. “I am truly sorry for what I’ve done to them.”
Montalvo received high praise from Judge Mark Trusock and Prosecutor William Forsyth. The pair pointed out his sparkling prison record and letters of support from the original judge in the case.
“If I had the authority to go under 25 years, I think I would. I’m very impressed,” Judge Trusock told Montalvo.
Ultimately, Judge Trusock handed down the minimum sentence of 25 to 60 years.
Now in his mid-30s and having spent more than half of his life behind bars, Montalvo will have a shot at parole in 2023.
“When we got here this morning I’m like, I feel like this isn’t even real. We’ve been waiting so long for something,” Montalvo’s sister, Cassandra Shehorn, told 24 Hour News 8 after the hearing. “Just to have him home and part of family again. It’ll be amazing.”
Another defendant in the same case — Christopher Peltier — was also resentenced Friday to 35 to 60 years in prison. He went into the store, but didn’t fire the shots that killed Corp.
Peltier has committed more than four dozen violations while in prison. That’s part of the reason why he was given a longer sentenced than Montalvo.
The prosecutor is asking that the gunman in the case — Robert Maze — remain in prison for life. He still awaits a hearing in the matter.
Still today, the prosecutor calls it a cold-blooded killing — an argument during a drug deal that turned deadly.
In 1998, 15-year-old Derrick Pimpleton was left for dead — shot four times by then 15-year-old Ahmad Williams.
Friday, in a packed courtroom more than 18 years it all happened, Williams plead his case for the minimum sentence and a shot at parole.
“There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I’m not in regret. And I will always have remorse for the rest of my life for what I’ve done,” Williams told the judge.
But Pimpleton’s family didn’t hear that kind of apology during the initial sentencing. They say Williams showed no remorse when it all went down.
The victim’s sister, Danneka Cooper, wiped away tears as she described the scar left on her family.
“We just didn’t grow up the same,” she said. “He took somebody else’s life. I do feel like he should get out, but I don’t feel like it should be anytime soon.”
Ultimately, thanks in part to letters of support from the original judge in the case and Williams’ probation officer, Judge Trusock granted him a best-case-scenario sentencing: the minimum of 25 to 60 years in prison.
Once believing he would never escape a cell, Williams will now be eligible for parole in less than nine years.
His family and friends cheered as he left the courtroom.
22 TOTAL CASES
There are 22 juvenile lifers in Kent County. For 13 of them — the worst cases — Forsyth is asking that a judge uphold the life sentence. For the other nine, including the three mentioned above, he’s recommending a new sentence and a chance at parole.
However, even if a defendant is eligible for parole, it doesn’t mean that he or she will be automatically released at that time. In each case, the prisoner still has to go before a parole board. They will make the final decision.