A Montgomery man convicted of murdering his father just days after his 18th birthday has lost his bid to have his life sentence modified.
In a July 29 opinion, the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with the district court that a rule, known as Miller/Montgomery, prohibiting life sentences without the possibility of release for “juvenile offenders who are not irreparably corrupt” doesn’t apply to Jonas David Nelson, now 24.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment,” later clarifying that the penalty is unconstitutional for “juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth.”
The state court disagreed with Nelson’s argument that science has proven “no material neurodevelopmental differences between juveniles and 18 year olds,” finding that though he was just past his 18th birthday, he was an adult when he murdered his father in January 2014.
Nelson was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder after complaining to a friend that his father was too strict, and then, when he was asleep on the living room floor, taking a hunting rifle and ammunition from his father’s gun cabinet and shooting him in the head at close range. Nelson initially claimed someone outside the home fired the shot through an exterior door, but evidence showed Nelson fired both shots, the second to cover his tracks.
“Supreme Court precedent suggests that extension of the Miller/Montgomery rule to young adult offenders based on cognitive age is inappropriate,” Justice Natalie Hudson wrote for the court.
Two justices, Margaret Chutich and Paul Thissen, provided dissenting opinions, arguing that Nelson’s age should not be the sole determiner of his sentence. The court noted that the record shows Nelson is cognitively and socially delayed and suffers from years of psychological and emotional abuse, all which must be considered, Chutich wrote in dissent.
“It is illogical, inconsistent, and constitutionally disproportionate for Minnesota to treat youthful offenders as immature for some purposes but sufficiently mature when imposing the harshest possible sentence without considering any relevant mitigating circumstances,” she wrote following a list of behaviors 18 year-olds aren’t considered mature enough to handle: Buying and drinking alcoholic beverages or tobacco products, buying a firearm and holding state or local office.
“If this murder had been committed seven days earlier, Nelson could have offered evidence relevant to his age, background, and unique circumstances. It is incomprehensible to think that, because of the passage of seven days, we will say only that his crime reflects irreparable corruption,” wrote Chutich.
This was Nelson’s second appeal to the state Supreme Court. In October 2016, the high court affirmed the district court’s decision to allow Nelson’s confession into evidence, finding it was not coerced, but did remove two second-degree murder convictions.