JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi man convicted of taking part in two fatal armed robberies at age 17 has been resentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Paul Murrell Stewart was originally sentenced to life without parole after pleading guilty to capital murder in 1996 in the 1995 slayings of two men at gas stations in the rural Mississippi Delta. As part of his plea agreement, Stewart testified against the man who shot them, Edwin Hart Turner, who was 22 at the time of the crimes. Turner was convicted of capital murder in 1997 and executed in 2012.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that it's unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to mandatory life without parole. In 2016, the court said the ruling applied to the more than 2,000 inmates serving such sentences nationwide and that all but the rare irredeemable juvenile offender should have a chance of parole.
On Sept. 6, Carroll County Circuit Judge George Mitchell Jr. resentenced Stewart, now 39. The judge noted that Stewart has been well behaved in prison and has earned academic credentials, including a high school equivalency diploma and a bachelor's degree in Christian ministry.
Although Stewart pleaded guilty to capital murder, the resentencing order signed by the judge, the district attorney and Stewart's attorney said Turner was the "sole shooter" of the victims, 37-year-old Eddie Brooks and 38-year-old Everett Curry.
Brooks was shot to death while working Dec. 13, 1995, at a truck stop in Carroll County. Court records showed that Stewart and Turner could not open the store's cash register during an attempted robbery. Curry, an off-duty prison guard, was shot to death a short time later while pumping gas at another gas station nearby. Court records showed Stewart went inside to rob the store while Turner forced Curry to the ground and killed him.
Stewart's attorney, Hiram Eastland, said Tuesday that he and Stewart were friends when they both attended a private high school in Greenwood, Mississippi. He said people at the school also knew Turner.
"This is one of those things that just really shook our community," Eastland said of the crimes.
Mississippi law requires people to serve at least 10 years of a life sentence before being considered for parole. Because Stewart has already served longer than that, Eastland said he hopes the state Parole Board will consider Stewart for release in the next several months.
Stewart was one of 87 people in Mississippi who were originally sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles and who were affected by the Supreme Court's rulings. More than half are still waiting to be resentenced.
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