The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a Gary man serving 183 years in prison received an appropriate sentence for two gang-related murders he committed as a teenager.
In June, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing hearing for Donnell Wilson, 23, who was 16 years old in 2013 when he shot and killed two brothers, Shaqwone Ham, 19, and Charles Wood, 18, in a gang territory dispute in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood.
He also committed an armed robbery shortly before the murders, according to court records.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision, said a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling all but prohibiting life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, similarly applies to de facto juvenile life without parole sentences — such as the one issued to Wilson.
Based on that finding, the appeals court struck down Wilson's prison term and ordered a new sentencing hearing that takes into account the attendant characteristics of youth in general, as well as the youth and characteristics of the defendant being sentenced.
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In Wilson's case, the court noted that Wilson grew up in an "urban war zone" where as a child he saw at least three people shot, Wilson himself was shot twice as a child, and Wilson was forced to live "under threat of serious injury and death nearly every day."
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. asked the state's high court to review that ruling. Hill claimed the Court of Appeals incorrectly applied the U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
The Indiana Supreme Court's unanimous vote to grant transfer vacates the Court of Appeals ruling, and sets the case up for independent review and a decision by the five justices, likely next year.