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Woman sentenced to life as a juvenile released from prison

AP Photo/ Gerald Herbert

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A woman who was sentenced as a juvenile to life in prison without parole for capital murder has been released from prison after her sentence was shortened following U.S. and state Supreme Court rulings that such sentences to be unconstitutional.

Laquanda “Faye” Jacobs, now 43, was released on Tuesday after serving 26 years. In 1993, when she was 16, Jacobs was found guilty of the murder of her classmate, 17-year-old Kevin Gaddy, a crime which Jacobs says she did not commit. She was originally sentenced to life without parole.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those sentences for juveniles constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Four years later, the court also ruled that offenders who already had been sentenced should have their cases reexamined.

On Monday, the Pulaski County District Attorney’s office renegotiated Jacobs’ life sentence to a 40-year term. According to a statement by the Midwest Innocence Project, which is representing Jacobs, her term was deemed completed “given her good-time credit and exemplary conduct in prison,” and she was released Tuesday after serving 26 years.

John Johnson, Chief Deputy Prosecutor for Pulaski County, said his office met with Gaddy’s family to explain to them why Jacobs would be released and consult with them before negotiating Jacobs’ new sentence.

“This office was responsible for the jury convicting Ms. Jacobs back when she was convicted, and it obviously was the right verdict. But the views of the U.S. Supreme Court changed,” Johnson said.

But the Midwest Innocence Project said that Jacobs is innocent and plans to petition the governor for clemency. They call into question the reliability of two eyewitnesses who identified Jacobs as the shooter and say Jacobs original defense lawyers were “inadequate.”

In 1992, a female armed with a handgun and a man approached Gaddy and a witness, Tony Davis, and demanded they hand over their Chicago Bulls jackets. After a struggle, the female shot Gaddy in the chest, who died before the police arrived.

Davis and another witness ultimately identified Jacobs as the shooter, according to court documents, but a document filed by the Midwest Innocence Project said both witnesses initially did not identify Jacobs, and neither did at least 5 other witnesses who spoke to police. One witness ultimately recanted his identification as well.

Jacobs said she is excited to be released, but said justice for her has not been served. She also said she believes she was charged with life without parole as a juvenile because officials wanted to discourage rampant gang violence which plagued Little Rock in the 1980s and 1990s.

“They wanted to send out a message and I was the one they chose to do it to,” Jacobs said.