Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida’s longtime poster boy for unfair sentencing laws remains behind bars

Back in 2005, when the New York Times wrote about the 9,700 prisoners in the U.S. serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles, Tim Kane’s case was used to illustrate the benighted extremes wrought by this kind of justice.

Timothy John Kane had been given a life sentence for his tangential involvement in a 1992 double murder in Pasco County. He was 14 when he accompanied two older boys on a burglary that turned ghastly.

Testimony at his trial indicated Kane tried to leave the burglary scene when he realized the home was occupied, but Alvin Morton, 19 at the time, described by prosecutors as a sociopath, pointed his shotgun at Kane and threatened to shoot if he tried to flee. Kane hid under a table while Morton and Bobby Garner, 17, went into an adjoining room where they shot and stabbed Madeline Weisser and John Bower.

Morton got the death penalty. (He’s still on death row). Garner received life without possibility of parole for at least 50 years. But it was life without parole for 25 years given to a 14-year-old that seemed so Draconian.

When the Palm Beach Post wrote about the need to reform Florida’s juvenile sentencing laws in 2008, the piece led with Timothy Kane. Two years later, the Tampa Bay Times profiled Kane in another story about harsh sentencing.

Meanwhile, the courts have begun to recognize that juvenile offenders have a different level of culpability than adults. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a landmark 2005 decision that eliminated the death penalty for juvenile convicts, even a heinous crime committed by a youngster isn’t evidence of “irretrievably depraved character.”

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in a Florida case that judges could no longer sentence a juvenile to life without parole for a crime other than murder. Two years later, the court ruled it unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to mandatory life without parole. Last year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that only juveniles convicted of murder could be sentenced to life, and even those convicted of murder can’t be sentenced to life without parole.

But the particular case of Tim Kane, a model prisoner these 24 years, remained just beyond the parameters of these new guidelines.

His long languishing clemency petition, full of commendations from prison officials, includes a 2008 letter from the prosecutor in his case recommending that his sentence be commuted. John Blue, the appeal judge who wrote the opinion affirming Kane’s conviction, wrote a letter to the clemency board in 2009 stating, “if there were ever a case calling for mercy, this is the case that calls out for it.”

Yet Kane, despite all the attention, has never even been granted so much as a hearing before the infamously tough Florida Board of Executive Clemency.

Florida State University’s Public Interest Law Center, which has been pushing for clemency since 2007, has filed yet another petition. The board, made up of the governor and the cabinet, next meets on March 3. If there was ever a time for mercy....