Bennett, who was 17 when he fatally stabbed Vivian Berry, was automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1972. But like hundreds of other convicted teens in Michigan, he was eligible for a new hearing based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions that say minors must not be treated the same as adults at sentencing.
A judge must consider the crime but also Bennett’s background when he was a teen.
“The evidence established that Bennett had been severely abused — physically and emotionally — by his parents,” the appeals court said. “The experts explained that this abuse deeply scarred the young man’s already fragile psyche.
“Although the details of the crime are horrific,” the court said, ”they reflected a ‘rage state of frenetic violence,’ one of the psychologists expressed, shaped by serious and untreated mental illness rather than sadistic depravity.”
The Wayne County prosecutor’s office sought a second no-parole sentence. Judge Dalton Roberson acknowledged Bennett’s improved mental health but said he might have problems living independently without the structure of prison.
The appeals court, however, said Bennett now must be sentenced to a term of years “with all deliberate speed,” which would likely make him eligible for release because of many years already served and credits for good behavior.
Prosecutors will not seek an appeal at the state Supreme Court, spokeswoman Maria Miller told The Associated Press.
Bennett’s lawyer, Susan McKeever, said she’s delighted by the appeals court decision by judges Elizabeth Gleicher, Brock Swartzle and Jane Beckering.