JEFFERSON CITY, MO – The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri announced today that its long-time client Bobby Bostic will be released from prison late next year after having been granted parole. In the meantime, Bostic will be provided courses to ease his re-entry into society. Bostic has been imprisoned since 1995 for a crime he committed when he was just 16 years old.
On one evening in 1995, Bostic and an 18-year-old man robbed several individuals. No one was seriously injured. After a jury convicted Bostic of multiple felonies, Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker sentenced him to 241 years in prison. At the time, Judge Baker felt Bostic was not a likely candidate for rehabilitation and required his sentences to be served consecutively so that he would not be eligible for parole until 2091. Bostic would have had to live to 112 to even be considered for parole. Judge Baker, at the time, intended for Bostic to die in prison.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Graham v. Florida that it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole for nonhomicide crimes. The Court required a minor be given a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release” by showing “that the bad acts he committed as a teenager are not representative of his true character.”
Represented by the ACLU of Missouri, Bostic petitioned Missouri state courts seeking to have an opportunity for release. He was denied relief on a divided Missouri Supreme Court’s reading of Graham as requiring a parole hearing for only those juveniles handed a sentence of life without parole. The court’s majority thought that a sentence that technically makes a juvenile eligible for parole—but not until he is long dead—presented any constitutional issue. The ACLU of Missouri has argued that Bostic’s de facto life sentence should also have qualified him for a parole hearing under Graham.
In 2018, Bostic’s petition to the Supreme Court of the United States was denied without comment. While the Supreme Court considered the matter, however, Bostic won an important new ally: now-retired Judge Baker, who had sentenced him to life in prison more than twenty years earlier. Baker now understood that beliefs common in the 1990s about youth offenders not being capable of rehabilitation were wrong. She viewed Bostic—who had atoned, improved himself, and learned from his youthful mistakes—as a prime example of those erroneous beliefs.
After court efforts were exhausted, the ACLU worked with Missouri legislators on both sides of the aisle to pass a state statute providing a parole hearing after 15 years in prison to Bostic and the approximately 100 others serving de facto life without parole sentences for nonhomicide crimes they committed as juveniles. The law went into effect on August 28, 2021, and Bostic’s November parole hearing was one of the first under the new law.
In preparing for his parole hearing, Bostic was aided by attorneys Kathleen Hardee of Wallace Saunders and Jennifer Eng of Polsinelli in addition to attorneys from the ACLU of Missouri; however, prison rules permitted Bostic to be accompanied at the hearing by just a single advocate. He chose Judge Baker, with whom he had be reunited last year at a prison visit organized by his attorneys. She readily accepted this invitation and advocated for his release at the hearing. Today the parole board announced its decision.
“The prejudices that let us believe as a society that teens who commit crimes are beyond redemption are still borne by those who remained imprisoned decades after mistakes that they made as juveniles,” said Tony Rothert, ACLU of Missouri’s Director of Integrated Advocacy. “While the legislature continues to add to the books laws that push young people from school to prison, Bobby demonstrates what we all know: who we are as children does not forever demarcate who we can become as adults.”