The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of Roosevelt… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)
SAN FRANCISCO — A man ordered to prison for 254 years for sexually assaulting four women in Long Beach should be given an opportunity to be released because he committed the crimes at the age of 16, a federal appeals court decided Wednesday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a 2010 Supreme Court decision that barred life sentences for most juvenile offenders should be applied retroactively and to those sentenced to fixed-year terms that in effect are life without parole.
Roosevelt Brian Moore, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced after being found guilty in 1991 of attacking the women in four separate incidents over a five-week period in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach.
The then-16-year-old was convicted of nine counts of rape, seven counts of forcible oral copulation, two counts of attempted second-degree robbery, two counts of second-degree robbery, forcible sodomy, kidnapping with intent to commit a felony sex offense, genital penetration by a foreign object, and the unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle. The jury also found he used a firearm during the crimes.
Most members of a clinical psychological team that evaluated Moore before sentencing said he appeared capable of rehabilitation. One member disagreed, arguing there was no reason to believe he would not remain dangerous well into the future.
Moore challenged his sentence after the Supreme Court rejected sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder.
But a state appeals court said the decision did not apply to Moore's case because he was sentenced to fixed terms for multiple crimes. A federal magistrate rejected Moore's habeas corpus petition on the grounds the Supreme Court ruling was not retroactive.
The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit panel disagreed. In a 3-0 ruling written by Judge Harry Pregerson, a President Carter appointee, the panel noted that Moore would have to live to the age of 144 to be eligible for parole.
"Moore's sentence guarantees that he will die in prison because the trial judge determined at the outset that Moore could not rehabilitate," Pregerson said. "Moore has now spent over half of his life in prison. Still, he has no hope of reentering society. His past and future efforts to reform are immaterial."
The panel said Moore's sentence was unconstitutional and at odds with the Supreme Court's decision that most juvenile offenders be given "some meaningful opportunity" to reenter society. The case will now return to a lower federal court for resentencing.
Attorneys in the case declined to comment.