Arthur Franklin
Arthur Franklin ()

ARTHUR O’DERRELL FRANKLIN, APPELLANT, V. STATE OF FLORIDA, APPELLEE

Case Nos.: 1D13-2516, 2517 and 2518 (consolidated)

Date: May 19, 2014

Case type: Criminal juvenile sentencing

Court: First District Court of Appeal

Author of opinion: Judge Stephanie W. Ray

Lawyers for petitioner: Nancy A. Daniels and Glen P. Gifford, Office of the Public Defender, Tallahassee

Lawyers for respondent: Pamela Jo Bondi and Joshua R. Heller, Office of the Attorney General, Tallahassee

Panel: Judges Ray, Bradford L. Thomas and Ronald V. Swanson

Originating court: Duval Circuit Court

Ever since Arthur O’Derrell Franklin was sentenced to 1,000 years in prison for savagely raping three women in 1983 when he was 17, timing and circumstances have conspired against him.

Florida abolished parole mere months after his crimes. It wasn’t until 2010 that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Graham v. Florida that the Eighth Amendment prohibits life sentences without a meaningful chance of release for juveniles who commit crimes other than homicides.

And on May 2 the Florida Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Rick Scott that would guarantee court review of future record-setting penalties.

But it’s too late for Franklin, now 48.

On May 19 the First District Court of Appeal rejected his pro se attempt to apply Graham’s shot at leniency to his situation.

Because the timing of his crimes means he could be paroled and he didn’t attack a constitutional deficiency in the parole system, Franklin’s claim is insufficient on its face, the court ruled. Therefore, he isn’t entitled to a hearing or a lawyer’s assistance.

“Based on his eligibility for parole, Appellant’s sentence does not constitute cruel or unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment,” Judge Bradford Thomas wrote in a concurrence. “Graham did not hold that appellant must actually receive parole to comply with the Eighth Amendment.”

But how feasible is Franklin’s parole possibility since a judge put him away for 1,000 years and tried to retain veto power over the Parole Commission for the first third of the term—333 years?

“I don’t think he has a realistic chance, and I do think that the 1,000-year sentence screams, ‘Never let this guy out,’ ” said criminal defense lawyer Amy Agnoli of Abraham & Agnoli in Miami.

‘Irredeemable’

Were the judges unduly influenced by the ugliness of Franklin’s crimes, even 30 years later?

“I don’t think they were unduly influenced; I think they were influenced. How could you not be?” asked Agnoli, who isn’t involved in the case.

Thomas’ concurrence details Franklin’s role in the brutal crimes and the devastating aftermath for the victims.

In the first case, Franklin and a co-defendant kidnapped a woman whose car was stopped at a red light and slammed her head into the floorboard. She testified Franklin choked her while he sexually assaulted her. She was afraid to leave her home because the attack was only a few blocks away.

In the second case, Franklin told the victim it wasn’t the first time he and his friend had done this, and “they would never serve a single day in jail.” While shaking “uncontrollably,” she testified about being imprisoned by her fears.

In the third case, Franklin and two others gang-raped a woman, locked her in a railroad car for hours and then gang-raped her again. The doctor who examined the victim said she suffered the worst injuries the doctor had ever seen.

Quoting from Graham, Thomas wrote: “Those who commit truly horrifying crimes as juveniles may turn out to be irredeemable and thus deserving of incarceration for the duration of their lives.”

High-Court Scrutiny

In yet another stroke of bad luck for Franklin, the Florida Supreme Court is reviewing two juvenile sentences that aren’t nearly as incredible as his.

Gridine v. State and Henry v. State were argued before the high court Sept. 16. As of last week, the justices had not issued an opinion.

Leighdon Henry, sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 76½ years, was 17 when he was convicted of three counts of sexual battery, two counts of robbery and one count apiece of kidnapping, carjacking, burglary and possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana.

The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm for children, filed an amicus brief in the wo cases that invokes Graham.

“The Supreme Court based this holding on the fact that the unique characteristics of youth that make children less culpable, in addition to the developmental differences between children and adults, make it more likely that a child can reform,” the center wrote in a news release.

Shimeek Gridine, sentenced to 70 years in prison, was 14 when he fired a shotgun at a man he was trying to rob, striking him in the face, head, neck, shoulder, side and back. Gridine won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 77.

The First District upheld Gridine’s sentence, but not without a dissent.

“I am at a loss on how to apply the Graham decision to a lengthy term of years. Is a 60-year sentence lawful but a 70-year sentence not?” Judge James Wolf wrote. “Regardless, it is clear to me that appellant will spend most of his life in prison. This result would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Graham decision.”

He urged the Legislature to consider providing parole opportunities for juveniles.

The bill awaiting Scott’s signature takes a different approach that would give judges with more authority in sentencing young criminals.

By its terms, a juvenile convicted of a nonhomicide offense may be sentenced to life if a judge, after considering at least 10 factors, determines life is appropriate. A court must review after 20 years any sentence longer than 20 years. A second review is required 10 years later.

Agnoli said convicts who aren’t subject to the parole system are in a better place than Franklin, with a chance to prove they could be rehabilitated.

“They at least will get a hearing before a judge to show they don’t deserve a life sentence,” she said.