Court Battles

Nation’s oldest juvenile offender released after 68 years

Joe Ligon, the nation’s oldest and longest-serving juvenile offender, has been released from prison after serving 68 years of a life sentence, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Ligon pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in Philadelphia in 1953, when he was 15 years old. He was part of an assault and robbery spree that killed two people but has denied killing anyone himself and said he was scapegoated as an out-of-towner. However, he was sentenced to life without parole.

A 2012 Supreme Court decision found sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles to be cruel and unusual punishment, but Pennsylvania did not apply the ruling retroactively until a subsequent 2016 decision by the high court ordered states to do so.

In 2017, Ligon was resentenced to 35 years to life with immediate eligibility for parole, but he didn’t apply to be released on principle.

“I like to be free,” Ligon said at the time. “With parole, you got to see the parole people every so often. You can’t leave the city without permission from parole. That’s part of freedom for me.”

When Ligon refused parole, his attorney, Bradley Bridge of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, argued his mandatory maximum life sentence had been unconstitutional.

“The constitution requires that the entire sentence, both the minimum and maximum terms imposed on a juvenile, be individualized — and a one size fits all cannot pass constitutional muster,” he wrote in federal court, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Anita Brody, senior U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ordered Ligon be resentenced or released within 90 days in November, a period that expired Thursday.

“I’m looking at all the tall buildings,” Ligon said Thursday as he took in the unfamiliar sights of the city upon release. “This is all new to me. This never existed.”

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