By Ray King
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis did not err when she denied a claim by a prison inmate that his sentence was unconstitutional.
Rico Benton, now 47, pleaded guilty to capital murder in Hempstead County in 1995 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In his appeal, Benton contended that although he was 21 years-old when he committed the offense, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life sentences for juveniles should apply to him.
Benton is currently being held at the Cummins Unit of the Department of Correction in Lincoln County and filed the appeal in the county where he is serving his sentence.
His argument that the prohibition against a mandatory sentence of life without parole under the age of 18 should be extended because he was “still young and immature” when he committed the crime. Dennis denied his claim.
Writing for the high court, Associate Justice Karen Baker said the U.S. Supreme Court has not extended its ruling to offenders 18 years of age or older and federal courts have also rejected applying the ruling to offenders who were 18 or over when they committed their crimes.
Baker went on to say that the only possible sentences for capital murder are death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Because Benton was an adult when he committed the capital murder, the sentence of life imprisonment without parole is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment, nor is it illegal, much less illegal on its face,” Baker said in the ruling.