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Windom v. State

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 10, 2017

ETHAN ALLEN WINDOM, Petitioner-Appellant,
STATE OF IDAHO, Respondent.

         Boise, June 2017 Term

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Ada County. Hon. Cheri C. Copsey, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is vacated, and this case is remanded.

          Andrew H. Parnes, Ketchum, argued for appellant.

          Jessica M. Lorello, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, argued for respondent.

          EISMANN, Justice.

         This is an appeal out of Ada County from a judgment dismissing a petition for post-conviction relief after the district court denied a motion to amend the petition to raise a claim that petitioner, who had been sentenced to life without parole for murdering his mother when he was a juvenile, was entitled to be resentenced pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). The district court denied the motion to amend on the ground that Montgomery did not apply to the petitioner because he had not been sentenced to a mandatory fixed-life sentence and because, if Montgomery did apply, the sentence would be upheld. We vacate the judgment of dismissal, hold that the sentencing was not in conformity with the requirements of Montgomery, reverse the order denying the petitioner's motion to amend, and remand this case for further proceedings.


         Factual Background.

         On January 24, 2007, sixteen-year-old Ethan Windom brutally murdered his mother by repeatedly striking her head with a club that he had fashioned by attaching weights to one end of a dumbbell. After his arms tired from the weight, he then stabbed her dead body repeatedly in the throat, chest, and abdomen and finally thrust a knife into her exposed brain. He pled guilty to murder in the second degree, and the district court sentenced him to a determinate life sentence. This Court affirmed that sentence on appeal. State v. Windom, 150 Idaho 873, 253 P.3d 310 (2011).

         On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), which addressed whether state laws that required a mandatory fixed life sentence for juveniles convicted of murder violated the Eighth Amendment. The Court held that they did, but it also stated that

a sentencer misses too much if he treats every child as an adult. To recap: Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features-among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him-and from which he cannot usually extricate himself-no matter how brutal or dysfunctional. It neglects the circumstances of the homicide offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer pressures may have affected him. . . . And finally, this mandatory punishment disregards the possibility of rehabilitation even when the circumstances most suggest it.

Id. at 477-78.

But given all we have said in Roper, Graham, and this decision about children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change, we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon. That is especially so because of the great difficulty we noted in Roper and Graham of distinguishing at this early age between "the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption." Although we do not foreclose a sentencer's ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, we require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.

Id. at 479-80.

         On July 3, 2012, an attorney who did not represent Windom sent him a letter at the correctional institution in which he was housed. The attorney wrote:

You may have heard that the United States Supreme Court recently decided that mandatory fixed-life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. You do not have a mandatory fixed life sentence. But, it is possible that Judge Copsey did not consider all the factors that the Supreme Court says courts should consider before she imposed your discretionary fixed life sentence.
Therefore, you may want to challenge your sentence in court. I have enclosed a form to fill out if you want to file a federal habeas corpus petition. You need to file that petition in the federal court in Boise no later than September 19, 2012. You also might be able to file a state post-conviction petition, but the deadline for that might have been June 21, 2012. So you might be too late if you haven't filed a state post-conviction petition already. Finally, you might be able to file a Rule 35 motion to ...

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