9 Investigates: Supreme Court decision changes sentencing for underage killers

by: Allison Latos Updated:

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ANSON COUNTY, N.C. - Eighty-five convicted murderers in North Carolina could get a chance at freedom. A Supreme Court decision in 2012 ruled that if someone commits a murder when they’re under 18, they should not be required to spend life in prison.
 
In a 9 investigation, Anchor Allison Latos uncovered some Charlotte murderers are already aiming for a shorter sentence, while their victims' families fight to keep them behind bars.
 
Behind the barbed-wire fences of an Anson County prison sit two men from Mecklenburg County convicted of murder.
 
Donovan Johnston has been locked up for 18 years.
 
He was convicted in the 1995 murder of Dennis Clark on Beatties Ford Road when Johnston was 15.
 
“Somebody stole my jacket. I didn't know who did it. I think he sort of like snarled at me, and I just killed him. I don’t know why I killed him,” Johnston said.
 
Johnston got life in prison but may not serve that sentence.
 
“I know I lived, but I’m wondering if I lived enough,” he said.
 
In the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles convicted of murder should not be mandated to life without parole.
 
Johnston has filed for resentencing and, Channel 9 learned, so has Montrez Williams.
 
“I asked the Lord for an opportunity for my voice to be heard, and he showed me that through this new ruling,” Williams said.
 
Williams was convicted in a 2008 double murder in west Charlotte.
 
Police said a month and half shy of his 18th birthday, Williams pulled the trigger, killing Joshua Davis and Terry Long.
 
After two years in prison, Williams wants his sentence reduced under the Supreme Court ruling, but he also claims he shouldn't be in prison to start with.
 
“My whole interrogation was a lie. I was trying to protect my family,” he said.
 
Andrea Long doesn't believe Williams. The victims were her sons.
 
“He's a murderer and he's a liar, and he just can't come to terms with being in prison,” Long said.
 
Long vowed to fight Williams' request for less time.
 
“To go and shoot in cold blood who was only carrying an ink pen and a cigarette lighter and to want to use the Supreme Court to become a free man, I think that's really using the system,” Long said.
 
Many child advocates believe the Supreme Court decision is fair, including attorney Chris Fialko, who has defended young murder suspects.
 
“Kids shouldn’t be treated like adults,” Fialko said. “They just don’t seem to understand as well as an adult the whole process. Another is they don't have a developed sense of responsibility for what they've done.”
 
Williams has a resentencing hearing in late February. Johnston had already exhausted all of his legal appeals. North Carolina’s Court of Appeals is debating whether inmates in that situation are entitled to new sentencing hearings.