Former Judges, Prosecutors Rally Around Missouri Inmate Bobby Bostic

Jan 26, 2018 at 12:48 pm
Bobby Bostic was sentenced as a teen to 241 years in prison. - Image via Missouri Department of Corrections
Image via Missouri Department of Corrections
Bobby Bostic was sentenced as a teen to 241 years in prison.

A St. Louis man sentenced as a teen to die in prison now has the backing of 26 former judges and prosecutors.

In a brief filed on Thursday, the group of legal eagles asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case of Bobby Bostic, arguing that a Missouri judge violated his constitutional rights.

Bostic was ordered to serve 241 years in prison for crimes committed when he was a minor. By handing down such an incredibly long sentence, the former judges and prosecutors argue, Missouri is trying to skirt the prohibition on imposing sentences of life without parole on teens who haven't killed anyone. It may not be life on paper, but it's more than life in reality.

Now 39 years old, Bostic was sixteen in 1995 when he and an eighteen-year-old co-defendant robbed a group of good Samaritans and carjacked another woman. They shot the robbery victims, but no one was seriously wounded.

Bostic was generally seen as a sidekick during the one-night crime spree. One of the victims testified the teen "just stood there looking stupid" during the robbery. And the woman the teens carjacked credited him with preventing his partner in crime from raping her.

But none of that saved the teen from what was effectively a life sentence without parole. His older accomplice took a plea deal, but a young Bostic listened to some bad legal guidance from fellow inmates and went to trial, where he was convicted on eighteen charges.

At sentencing, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Evelyn Baker mocked the teen for ignoring his lawyer's advice to plead:

"... you dismissed them because you knew more than these trained legal minds because of your brilliant friends in the workhouse who wouldn't be there if they were so smart," the judge told him.

Baker technically didn't have the option to give a teen life without parole, so she simply refused to run any of the sentences simultaneously, adding up the years until they hit 241. Bostic won't even be eligible for parole until he's 112.

In case there was any doubt about Baker's intentions, she made them as clear as possible.

"You’re gonna have to live with your choice, and you’re gonna die with your choice, because Bobby Bostic, you will die in the Department of Corrections," Baker said.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Bostic and has previously petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. On Thursday, attorneys for the nonprofit law firm Phillips Black filed a brief in support of that petition on behalf of the former judges and prosecutors. The group includes the former chief justices of three state supreme courts, including Michael Wolff, who led Missouri's highest court from 2005 to 2007. 

They argue that not only did the judge rob Bostic of his right to show he had matured and changed over the years, but that she improperly punished him for being young and too foolish to take a plea deal.

"Mr. Bostic's case exemplifies the bases for requiring that juveniles be given a meaningful opportunity to obtain release," Jennifer Merrigan, an attorney for the Phillips Black Project, says in a statement.

Bostic is serving his sentence in Jefferson City Correctional Center. His advocates point out that he has shown himself to be a good prisoner, earning his GED and later graduating from a paralegal program. He has since earned additional certificates from Adams State College and Missouri State University.

"Despite this substantial and significant growth, maturity and rehabilitation, under Missouri law," Thursday's brief says, "Mr. Bostic will forever be denied the opportunity to demonstrate that 'the bad acts he committed as a teenager are not representative of his true character.'”

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.