JONESBORO — The U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that teenage killers are exempt from serving life without parole has delayed today's sentencing of a Riverdale teen convicted last month in the shooting death of a Clayton County sheriff's deputy.
It's a delay Lloyd Matthews has been hoping for. Matthews represented Johnathan Bun, 18, on charges Bun shot and killed Deputy Rick Daly July 20. Bun was convicted after a jury trial and was to be sentenced today.
"I'm hoping to get a continuance," said Matthews Tuesday. "I have an argument to make that he should not be sentenced to life without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court cases may be helpful to my situation."
In reviewing a handful of cases from different states, the higher court ruled this week that sentencing a teenager convicted of murder to a mandatory life without parole sentence constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment." The same court several years ago outlawed the death penalty for convicted killers under 18. Bun turned 17 two months before he killed Daly.
The Justices took the view that teenagers are capable of being rehabilitated and should not be treated as an adult.
Clayton County Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco said he objected to the defense request for continuance.
"The defense was granted a continuance based on the defense expert, an essential witness, being unavailable on June 29 and out of the country," he said. "We are awaiting a new court date."
Matthews said the expert is a psychiatrist who is an expert on juvenile culpability.
Tanjuatco's co-counsel, Clayton Executive Assistant District Attorney Jason Green, said the state is asking for the maximum sentence allowed, which is life with the possibility of parole plus 75 years.
Although just 17 at the time, Bun's arrest for killing Daly was not his first brush with the law. His criminal history goes back to age 10 when he was referred to Clayton Juvenile Court for bringing a pocketknife to school, court records show.
Since that first encounter, Bun was in and out of Juvenile Court for years. He was even twice committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice for a maximum two years.
In November 2010, when he was 16, Bun was put on six months probation in South Carolina for being a minor in possession of alcohol. His probation ended May 16.
Clayton County police said that in January 2011, while on probation, Bun robbed a Forest Park store at gunpoint and made off with $200. It was because of those warrants that Daly initiated a stop July 20 on a car in which Bun was a passenger. Bun emerged from the car firing a Glock .40-caliber handgun at Daly, hitting him several times. Bun fled the scene but was found five and a half hours later less than a mile away.
Bun has been held in the Henry County Jail since his arrest last year. Matthews said he is "OK" since his conviction. Prosecution evidence included Bun's confession to police and eyewitness accounts of the shooting from several law enforcement officers and the driver of the car in which Bun was a passenger. Bun took the stand in his own defense.
"He expected to be convicted but he doesn't feel he was treated fairly," said Matthews. "But that's life. He's just waiting for the ax to fall. He knows it's going to be harsh."