Supreme Court Decision Frees Pittsburgh Man Who Grew Up in Prison

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By Kristin Hoffman, Staff Writer

In United States v. Miller, a divided Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles.[1] The ruling said that these mandatory sentences violate the constitutional amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment because children lack maturity, have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, and are more open to rehabilitation than adult offenders.[2]

In 2016, the Court ruled in Louisiana v. Montgomery that those who were sentenced as teenagers to mandatory life sentences without parole must be given an opportunity to argue that they should be released from prison.[3] This ruling expanded the Court’s 2012 decision in Miller striking down the mandatory life without parole sentences and said that the rule must be retroactively applied.[4] The Court in Louisiana v. Montgomery, required that states give retroactive effect to Miller by either permitting juvenile homicide offenders to be considered for parole or by resentencing them.[5] This essentially gives individuals convicted under those circumstances an opportunity for re-examination of their crimes and a chance at freedom.

There are 2,300 inmates serving life-without-parole sentences for offenses committed before they were 18 years old.[6] Only 79 of these inmates were 14 years old or younger at the time of their crimes.[7] Many of those affected are concentrated in three states: Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Michigan.[8] More than 500 of these former juveniles, the most in the country, are from Pennsylvania.[9]

Ricky Olds — one of the 79 inmates sentenced to a mandatory life sentence without parole for a crime committed at age 14 or younger — was finally released this month.[10] Olds was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole by age 15.[11]

The charge stemmed from an incident that occurred in October 1979. Olds and his 16-year-old friend, Todd Allen, were riding around town when Allen decided to rob a convenience store.[12] While robbing the store, Allen shot a postal worker, Thomas Beitler, who was inside.[13] Within a month, both Allen and Olds were arrested and taken into custody. The judge who presided over Olds’s trial was hesitant to give him the same sentences as Allen because he classified Olds as a “lesser participant” in the crime, but he had no choice.[14] The jury had already come back with a guilty verdict on a second-degree murder charge.

“Besides, the standard of life imprisonment in this state is not prison for the rest of your natural life,” said District Attorney Robert Colville. “With good behavior, he could be out in 17 years and maybe far less.”[15] Colville was mistaken, however: Since the 1970s, all life sentences in Pennsylvania were imposed without the possibility of parole, and the jury instructions did not include this consequence of a second-degree murder conviction.[16]

When Olds was first imprisoned at 14, there was no juvenile wing, and he was among the general adult population.[17] Since then, Olds has spent 37 years in prison. After the recent Supreme Court decision allowing the review of these cases, Olds had a renewed hope for release. Even the prosecutor who argued Olds’s case came forward, wrote a letter to the judge presiding over the re-sentencing hearing, and argued that Olds should be set free.[18]

Judge Cashman of the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas resentenced Olds to serve 20 years to life in prison.[19] This sentence made him immediately eligible for parole.[20] At that time, Olds’s attorneys, Wendy Williams and Marc Bookman, requested that he be granted bond pending his appeal.[21] Judge Cashman granted this bond, but vacated his order the next day when the district attorney’s office objected — stating that a defendant sentenced to life is not eligible for this type of bond.[22] Olds was awaiting release in the Allegheny County Jail when the order was vacated, and he was transferred back to SCI Somerset.[23] The defense counsel appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which denied the appeal.[24]

Olds became a free man nearly two weeks ago and finally got his long-awaited release when he was paroled by a state board.[25] Now 52 years old, Olds has reunited with his 80-year-old mother, who has awaited the day of his release for the last 38 years.[26] Upon the return of her son, Daisy Olds said, “I don’t care how many times I get knocked down, I kept on praying for it. And I feel that God answered in due time.”[27]

There are thousands of juvenile offenders still serving life sentences without parole throughout the country. Ricky Olds’s story serves as a beacon of hope for those who previously had none.



[1] Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012).

[2] Id. (citing Roper v. Simmons, U.S. 551 at 569).

[3] Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016).

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 736.

[6] Robert Barnes, Supreme Court Says States May Not Impose Mandatory Life Sentences on Juvenile Murderers, The Washington Post (June 25, 2012),, last accessed Feb. 27, 2017.

[7] Id.

[8] Robert Barnes, Supreme Court: Life Sentences on Juveniles Open for Later Reviews, The Washington Post (January 25, 2016),, last accessed Feb. 27, 2017.

[9] Marc Bookman, The 14-Year-Old Who Grew Up in Prison, Vice,, last accessed Feb. 27, 2017.

[10] Bob Mayo, Pittsburgher Ricky Olds, In Prison Since Age 14 Now Free After Serving Nearly 40 Years (February 21, 2017),, last accessed Feb. 27, 2017.

[11] Bookman supra note 9.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Beau Berman, Man Sentenced to Life in Prison at 14 May be Released after 37 Years, WTAE, (November 17, 2016),, (last accessed Feb 27, 2017).

[19] Mayo supra note 10.

[20] Id.

[21] Berman supra note 19.

[22] Id.

[23] Mayo supra note 10.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

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