In Mississippi, a Lost Second Chance for Gerome Moore
“You look like a cold-blooded monster.”
That’s what officers told then 17-year-old Gerome Moore when they interrogated him following the 2015 shooting of Carolyn Temple. Moore ultimately confessed to driving the getaway car for two friends who robbed and shot Temple in her boyfriend’s driveway; she died a week later from the gunshot wound. The teen also confessed to bringing the gun used to kill Temple, though he did not use it himself. In the fall of 2016, a jury found Moore guilty of capital murder, a conviction that carried a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
Because Moore was a juvenile at the time of the shooting, he was eligible for resentencing under Montgomery v. Louisiana and Miller v. Alabama. In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2012 that sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juveniles. Montgomery, decided the year that Moore was found guilty, ruled that Miller must be applied retroactively. The ruling gave kids sentenced to life without parole, like Moore, a chance to petition for a more lenient sentence. But earlier this year, Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill ruled against Moore’s motion, denying him a chance for resentencing and affirming the ruling that he should die in prison — even though he didn’t pull the trigger.
Together, the two Supreme Court rulings require states to give kids sentenced to life without parole a “meaningful opportunity for release,” and Miller dictates that only kids whose cases demonstrate “irreparable corruption” should result in a life without parole sentence. Prosecutors across the country were required to reassess hundreds of sentences, considering the nuances of each juvenile’s case, and make new recommendations — but in many cases, that hasn’t happened in earnest.
Unfortunately for kids like Moore, some prosecutors and judges seem not to be invested in that “meaningful opportunity.” To Judge Weill and Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Randy Harris, the fact that Moore never left the car or physically interacted with Temple was irrelevant. “He brought the gun,” Harris told the jury in September. “That is why we are here today. That gun is why Carolyn Temple is dead.”
Though Temple’s death is undoubtedly tragic, the ruling that an impulsive teenager’s bad choice makes him “irreparably corrupt” ignores ample evidence that culpability must be considered differently when the defendant is a child instead of an adult. Adolescent brain science has repeatedly demonstrated the difference between kids and adults — namely, that young brains that are still developing increase “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences,” according to Miller. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have acknowledged this fact, banning life without parole sentences for kids entirely.
Nearly 2,500 prisoners sentenced to life without parole as children are now at the mercy of prosecutors and judges who have been called upon by the highest court to carefully reconsider their cases. Unfortunately for kids like Moore, in counties like Hinds, that careful reconsideration seems to be absent.