SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Wednesday in a notorious 2001 Central Oregon murder case that the state is violating the U.S. Constitution in sentencing of juveniles convicted of aggravated murder.
The decision came in the case of Justin Alan Link, now 35, who along with four other teens — one the victim’s son — were convicted of brutally killing Barbara Thomas, 52, in March 2001 at her home on the Old Bend-Redmond Highway. The teens tried to flee to Canada in the woman’s car but were stopped at the border and arrested.
The court said in its 63-page ruling that a sentence of life in prison without considering that youth offenders are developmentally different than adults convicted of the same crime is in conflict with the Eighth Amendment, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
“In this case, we are asked to determine the constitutionality, under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, of a sentence — specifically, life imprisonment — imposed on a juvenile offender … when such a sentence is imposed without regard to the individual characteristics of the juvenile defendant,” Judge Bronson James wrote for the majority.
“We conclude that the imposition of life imprisonment … on juvenile offenders without individualized considerations of youth by the sentencing court, is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.”
"Taken together, the several statutes that comprise the Oregon scheme for imposition of the severe sentence options for aggravated murder on a juvenile defendant fail the procedural obligation — the affirmative duty — to assess the role of youth at the time of sentencing in determining the constitutionally proportionate sentence,” the court wrote.
Link already was sentenced to life in prison in the case on three separate occasions. The last time was in September 2016, when the judge set a possibility of parole in another 15 years, meaning a total of 30 years behind bars. He had been serving life without the possibility of parole prior to that, at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton.
Link’s case had been sent back to Deschutes County for a third time in 2013, when the Oregon Supreme Court reduced the number of aggravated murder convictions and ruled that he was entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
Circuit Judge Alta Brady heard a week of testimony, again reviewing Link’s role in the murder. She confirmed that while Link was not in the home when Thomas was shot and killed by Seth Koch, then 15, Link was the ringleader in the killing.
Earlier, as the teens trashed the home, they had talked of and even made some preparations to kill the woman by various means such as putting a toaster in a bathtub, setting the house ablaze or injecting her with bleach. She was beaten with bottles before she was fatally shot.