The opinion published Tuesday denies the appeal of Michael Eugene Williams, whose attorneys argued that sentencing an “emotionally immature 20-year-old adolescent” to life in prison without parole was “cruel and unusual punishment.” The justices unanimously denied the argument, stating that outside of death penalty cases, there is no constitutional requirement for appropriate criminal punishment.
They added that although the U.S. Supreme Court holds that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life in prison for nonhomicide crimes, his age and the crime make him ineligible for that argument.
According to evidence at the trial, Williams and co-defendant Susan Inglett walked into the restaurant, across from the Tubman South Augusta YMCA on May 30, 2009, around closing time. Inglett put a dollar on the counter for a cup of tea while Williams went into the bathroom and put on a mask, black skull cap and green bandana.
When Williams came out of the bathroom and pointed a gun at Cheung, the shopkeeper gave a “loud yell,” which the defense argued startled Williams into firing the gun. Cheung was killed instantly. Williams pleaded guilty in January 2011 and received life in prison without parole.
Inglett pleaded guilty in March 2011 to involuntary manslaughter and received 25 years in prison. A third co-defendant, Nicholson Williams, pleaded guilty in March 2011 to voluntary manslaughter and received 20 years in prison.
Cheung’s wife, Ming Ming Cheung, welcomed the news Tuesday. At the sentencing, Cheung said, she pleaded with the judge to put the defendants away for a long time.
“They not only took away my husband, but turned my whole life upside down,” she said.