Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Hitchhiker Murderer Sentence

in Criminal justice/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Supreme Court has upheld the newest sentence for a man convicted as a teenager in the 1980s of robbing and killing a hitchhiker.

The court unanimously upheld the sentence of Donald Clyde Davis, who was convicted of first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated robbery in the 1982 death of a hitchhiker whose body was found in Johnson County. Davis was 17 at the time of the murder.

In 1983, he was sentenced to life without parole for the murder plus another 20 to 50 years in prison on the robbery conviction.

However, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Davis in 2013 asked for a new sentencing hearing in line with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but before the Wyoming court could hear the request, the Legislature changed sentencing laws to conform with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Davis’ sentence was changed to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years and in 2015, he was paroled on the murder sentence to begin serving the 20- to 50-year sentence for aggravated robbery.

Davis challenged that sentence to the Wyoming Supreme Court, saying that between the more than 30 years he had already served on the murder charge and the 20- to 50-year sentence he still faced on the robbery conviction, it amounted to a life sentence in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Wyoming justices agreed and in 2019 ordered a new sentencing hearing for Davis.

The state district court in Johnson County held a new sentencing hearing and reduced Davis’ sentence on the robbery conviction to 12 to 50 years in prison.

Davis, in his latest appeal, argued the sentence again was too long and would amount to a sentence of life in prison.But the court, in its unanimous decision, found that the sentence meets two standards to be considered constitutional — if the minimum amount of time a juvenile is to spend in prison is less than 45 years and if the juvenile could potentially be released before reaching the age of 61.

Justices agreed that the reduced minimum sentence for the aggravated robbery conviction, 12 years, would fall within those standards.

Davis also argued that the lower court abused its discretion by sentencing him to 12 to 50 years in prison, but justices said the sentence was warranted.

“The court’s … aggravated robbery sentence reflects not just the court’s belief that ‘it is not appropriate to release Mr. Davis immediately, as there are a number of services that he should receive the benefit of before being placed upon supervision’ but also a broader determination that Mr. Davis is not ready for immediate release,” the ruling said. “Under these circumstances, we conclude that Mr. Davis has not met the high bar to overturn a sentencing decision on an abuse of discretion standard.”

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