Smoke but No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened is available from Amazon or your local bookseller.

Even the Sentencing Judge Now Agrees that Bobby Bostic Should Not Die in Prison.

Bobby Bostic was only sixteen-years-old when he was sentenced to 241 years in prison after trial for two armed robberies in which no one was killed or even seriously injured. His adult accomplice, who plead guilty, died while serving a 30-year-prison term.

Unless the Missouri Governor or the Missouri state legislature intervenes, Bostic will die in prison.

Bobby Bostic

A Shocking Sentence

In 1997, then-Judge Evelyn Baker sentenced Bostic to die in prison after he was convicted at trial:

“You made your choice. You’re gonna have to live with your choice, and you’re gonna die with your choice because, Bobby Bostic, you will die in the Department of Corrections. …. Your mandatory date to go in front of the parole board will be the year 2201. Nobody in this room is going to be alive in the year 2201.”

And just like that, the door to Bobby Bostic’s entire life slammed shut.

Forever.

People who commit murder have been sentenced to less time than Bobby Bostic received for his crimes, where no one died or suffered serious injuries. The sentence imposed on Bostic – an African American teenager from a poor neighborhood in St. Louis — was shockingly harsh and entirely disproportionate to the harm caused by his actions.  

It also is counter to what we know about juvenile offenders. Science proves that juveniles are neurologically and developmentally different than adult offenders. They are less mature and more impulsive in their decision-making, and far more susceptible to the influence of their peers and adults. They also demonstrate great capacity for change.   

The Supreme Court has adopted these neuroscientific findings about juveniles into its jurisprudence. In Graham v. Florida, the Court ended the use of life without parole sentences for juveniles in cases where no homicide occurred. As the Court explained in Graham, a sentence that ensures a juvenile defendant in a non-homicide case “will die in prison without any meaningful opportunity to obtain release” is cruel and unusual.

The Graham rationale should seemingly apply to Bobby Bostic. After all, he was sixteen at the time of his impulsive acts, was an accomplice to an adult offender, and did not kill – or even seriously injure — anyone.

But the Graham case was about life without parole sentences. Although a sentence of 241 years clearly offers no “meaningful opportunity to obtain” release, it is not a formal sentence of life without parole. The Supreme Court has yet to address the constitutionality of prison sentences that exceed life expectancy as they relate to juveniles.

Bostic Deserves a Second Chance

Unless something happens, Bobby will die in prison for a crime he committed at the age of 16.

But what is remarkable to me is that Bobby Bostic, in the face of such a cruel sentence, chose hope rather than despair.  Bobby has done everything in his power to better himself. He has written books, taken numerous classes, earned multiple certificates, and mentored other men who are incarcerated. None of the crime victims oppose Bobby being granted clemency or parole (take a look at the clemency petition to Governor Parson, which you can sign here).

Even now-retired Judge Baker publicly regrets the sentence that she imposed and has actively joined the call for clemency. She recently traveled to the Missouri state capitol in support of legislation that would allow Bobby Bostic to have an immediate parole hearing.

Judge Evelyn Baker

Release Bobby Bostic

Bobby Bostic has served more time in prison than he ever walked the earth as a free man. He has paid his debt to society, and then some. At a minimum, he should have the opportunity to show evidence that he has changed to a body that has the power to order his release.

More fundamentally, as Bobby Bostic’s case shows, we need to stop imposing death-in-prison sentences on juveniles, especially in non-homicide cases. People – particularly impulsive teenagers – are far more than the worst thing they have ever done. And people – like Bobby Bostic – deserve the opportunity to prove it.   

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10 Responses

  1. Bobby is in prison today because felonism (the belief that people suspected or convicted of a crime – and their families – deserve abuse, even abuse unto death) dominates our nation. When racism became less lucrative for Abusers of Power, they expanded their fearmongering and lies. Instead of teaching Americans to fear all people of color and people who were not practicing the same religion as the ruling class, they created the illusion that society is not safe as long as people suspected or convicted of a crime are treated as equals to everyone else.

    The judge who abused her power by imposing a 240 year sentence upon a 16 year old boy has repented. It is past time for the people maintaining her abuse to step, admit their wrong, and release Mr. Bostic immediately.

    1. Thanks for reaching out. I agree that Bobby Bostic’s sentence is completely disproportionate for the crime he committed at the age of 16 where no one was seriously injured. We need to stop equating justice with overly punitive sentences.

  2. Washington State has opted to revisit a number of sentences similar to this. Some of the petitioners prevail, others do not. It is proven that brain development and maturity come with time and 16 years old is definitely not a time when anyone is mature.

    1. That’s great to hear. Many states are reviewing juvenile life sentences because of the Graham decision (and related Supreme Court cases), but juveniles sentenced to lengthy prison terms — the functional equivalent of life sentences — are often overlooked.

    1. It is really unfathomable how we treat teenagers. Or that such an extensive sentence is imposed on anyone under the facts and circumstances of this case! Thanks for reading.

  3. Every time I’m given a look into individual cases of people inside the judicial system I feel sadness and despair. How could our system, with such high-ideals fail so miserably?

    Thank you for sharing and for all your efforts.

    1. Our system fails in so many ways. We need to start reimagining how we hold people accountable for their actions in ways that make sense, and in ways that recognize the humanity and dignity of all people involved.

  4. Thank you for bringing Bobby’s story to your audience and for being a champion of criminal justice reform.

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