Black Inmate at the Center of a Landmark Supreme Court Case Loses Parole Bid

Henry Montgomery, now 72, was convicted in 1963 for killing an East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy named Charles Hurt. Montgomery, who was 17 at the time, was caught skipping school by Hurt.

Montgomery was sentenced to death until the Louisiana Supreme Court said he didn’t get a fair trial. His conviction was actually thrown out in 1966 but he was retried and sentenced to life without parole.

Montgomery has now spent decades at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola as a “model prisoner” who state judges say has been rehabilitated.

Henry Montgomery

Montgomery’s case is the one that led to a Supreme Court ruling that led to the possibility of juvenile offenders sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to be able to be released if they showed signs of rehabilitation. It’s also the case that led the Supreme Court to rule that giving life without parole to minors is “cruel and unusual.”

The decision from the Supreme Court also came after research that shows adolescent brains are slower to develop so teenage offenders are more likely to act recklessly but they are also more likely to be rehabilitated.

Since the Supreme Court changed its ruling, 1,850 people have been resentenced. 450 who them have been released, according to Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

But Montgomery was again denied freedom on Thursday by a three-member parole board. The board voted 2-1 in favor of his release, but Louisiana requires a unanimous decision.

Brennan Kelsey, a white man, voted against Montgomery’s release. One of Kelsey’s so-called concerns was that Montgomery hadn’t participated in enough rehabilitation programs.

However, during Montgomery’s first several decades in jail, prisoners at Angola were prohibited from taking any courses, so Montgomery wasn’t even able to work on rehabilitation officially. Montgomery has since taken all rehabilitation courses required by law.

Since being in prison, Montgomery, started a boxing program that was later extended statewide, was a member of a Methodist fellowship group and worked in the prison’s silk-screen shop for decades. He has been named employee of the month “more times than I can count,” according to his lawyer.

Montgomery actually helped create many programs that are now available in the prison and across the state.

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