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.
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.
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.
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.