ATLANTA — A man who was 17 when he killed two people in Augusta 13 years ago is asking the Georgia Supreme Court for a lighter sentence because the nation’s top court outlawed the death penalty.
Marcus Rolando Moore changed his plea to guilty before the Richmond County jury that convicted him could sentence him to death. He agreed to take life without the possibility of parole and to never file an appeal in exchange for avoiding the lethal injection.
He had killed Neiteka Nicole Wesbey and Corey McMillian in 2000 and shot two other people, who survived.
At the time, state law permitted the death penalty for juveniles, but after he was behind bars, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that minors couldn’t be executed. His attorney, Stephen Reba, argues that ruling entitles Moore to a lighter sentence, even though he wasn’t sentenced to be executed.
The connection, Reba told the seven state justices, is that Georgia law at the time only allowed life without parole if someone was eligible for capital punishment. After the nation’s highest court concluded he would have been ineligible for the death penalty because of his age, then he was also ineligible for life without parole, Reba said.
“There’s some kind of confusion that we’re asking you to extend a judicial bridge when in fact this is just the natural consequence of what the Georgia General Assembly did in 1993,” he said, citing the year the Legislature enacted the eligibility for life without parole.
He would still have to serve the 60 year sentence for shooting the two victims who survived.
Deputy Attorney General Paula Smith said that Moore had signed an agreement that he wouldn’t appeal. She also pointed out that the federal court ruling against execution didn’t automatically invalidate his sentence because it hadn’t ruled specifically on that circumstance. Plus, the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled that minors could be sentenced to life without parole.
“He’s the one who elected to stop the trial, get a voluntary plea agreement, go with what appeared to be a good deal at the time – life without parole on Count 1 and consecutive sentences for the other charges. He was fully aware of the consequences, and he’s the one that elected to do so,” she said.
The Georgia top court will decide in about four months whether their federal colleagues’ ruling gets Moore another sentence.