INDIANAPOLIS – A Rising Sun teenager’s sentence of life without parole for killing his 10-year-old brother is under review by the Indiana Supreme Court.
Andrew Conley was 17 when he choked, suffocated and beat his brother Conner to death. In February, 12 years after the murder, a unanimous Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing hearing. The court said Conley’s defense lawyers failed to present evidence that teenagers’ brains aren’t fully developed, and didn’t even bring up a U-S Supreme Court decision predating the murder which suggested life sentences for juveniles are inherently suspect. The court also faulted Conley’s attorneys for failing to present evidence of Conley’s mental health issues, including a history of abuse and neglect.
In oral arguments, the justices offered few clues to their view of the case. Justice Christopher Goff said the U-S Supreme Court ruling presents a major obstacle to upholding a life sentence. But Chief Justice Loretta Rush said her review of the lower court record appears to show Conley’s lawyers did raise the issues surrounding their client’s age, though not in as much detail as on appeal. She questioned whether there’s grounds to throw out Conley’s sentence on grounds which have been heard and rejected before.
Conley is one of just three Hoosiers serving life without parole for a crime committed as a minor. The others were convicted in the murder of a South Bend police officer, and a Muncie stickup attempt which ended in the murder of a Ball State student. But while the U-S Supreme Court took a dim view of treating minors as “the worst of the worst,” the high court stopped short of declaring life sentences at that age unconstitutional in all circumstances. In May, the justices declined to hear an appeal in the Muncie case which urged them to take that step.