211231-HP-tommy richards sentencing-file photo

Tommy Richards, now 51, wipes away tears during a Sept. 10, 2019, hearing before Judge Angela Pasula at the Berrien County Courthouse. Richards was 17 when he raped and killed 10-year-old Shimika Hicks of Benton Harbor in 1987. He was handed the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

ST. JOSEPH — When the law changed regarding the automatic sentence of life in prison without parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder, Michigan courts had to dust off hundreds of cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2012 case of Miller vs. Alabama that the life without parole sentence was unconstitutional for juveniles. As a result, in 2016 the court made the ruling retroactive, which left prosecutors with an option to file motions to uphold the sentences.

Then-Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic did so in all 12 of the county’s juvenile-lifer cases.

He later withdrew the motion in three cases. The others would have what is called a Miller hearing, after which a judge can decide whether to grant the prosecution’s motion to uphold the original life without parole sentence, or resentence the person to a term of years.

In Berrien, two people who were children when they committed murder have had their life without parole sentences upheld by Berrien County Trial Court judges, four have been resentenced to a term of years and are awaiting a parole date, one is awaiting a decision regarding his sentence and two are awaiting hearings on their cases.

Three of Berrien County’s juvenile-lifers have been released from prison, and one has successfully completed his parole.

Here is the status of Berrien County’s juvenile-lifer murder cases, from earliest to most recent:

Bobby Griffin, now 71, was 16 when he fatally stabbed 83-year-old Millie Peapples in 1967 during a robbery in Benton Harbor. He was released from prison in 2018 and has successfully completed parole.

Tommy Richards, now 51, was 17 when he kidnapped, raped and killed 10-year-old Shamika Hicks of Benton Harbor in 1987. He was resentenced to life without parole. The Michigan Court of Appeals has denied his appeal of the sentence.

Efran Paredes Jr., now 48, was 15 when he robbed the Roger’s Vineland supermarket in St. Joseph Township. Paredes, a part-time bagger at the store, lured night manager Richard Tetzlaff into a back room, shot him four times, then took cash and checks. Paredes has been resentenced to life without parole, and is appealing to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Leonard Williams, now 47, was 16 when in December 1990, he shot and killed 15-year-old Tamika Swanson during a street gang shootout. Tamika, an unintentional victim, was hit in the head by a bullet as she walked with a group of friends after a basketball game. Williams was resentenced in 2018 to 35-60 years and will become eligible for parole in 2023.

Christopher Tobar, now 46, was 17 when in January 1993, he fatally shot Paries Cummings in a robbery in Benton Harbor. He was resentenced in May 2020 to 25-60 years and was released on parole in October 2020.

David Clayton, now 44, was 17 when in August 1994, he fatally shot 15-year-old Samuel Merriweather. Clayton was resentenced in June 2018 to 30-60 years and, with credit for good time, was released on parole in April of this year.

Allan Martin Jr., now 42, was 17 when in November 1996, he shot and killed Darrell Piedt at Piedt & Sons gun shop during a robbery. He has had a Miller hearing and is awaiting a judge’s decision regarding a possible resentence to a term of years.

Anthony Givens, now 42, was 17 when in December 1996, he raped and beat to death Elizabeth Olsen in her home in Union Pier. His Miller hearing is set for March 29, 2022.

Mark Abbatoy and Anthony DePalma, both now 42, were 17 when in May 1997, they killed DePalma’s mother, Connie DePalma of Bridgman by beating her with a shovel so they could take her car. DePalma was resentenced in 2020 to 27-60 years and, with credit for 23 years served, will become eligible for parole in 2024. Abbatoy was resentenced to 40-60 years and is appealing that sentence.

Dakota Eliason, now 26, was 14 when in March 2010 he shot and killed his step-grandfather, Jesse Miles. He was resentenced in 2015 to 35-60 years and will become eligible for parole in 2047.

Dequarius Stewart, now 28, was 17 when in October 2010 he killed a man outside a convenience store in Benton Harbor. He is awaiting his Miller hearing, which is set for Feb. 22.

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