Convicted Kentwood killer appeals revised sentence in 2006 slaying

There are changes in sentencing for juvenile lifers.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A Kent County killer who had his mandatory life sentence shortened because the 2006 murder occurred when he was a teen is now looking to the Michigan Court of Appeals for additional relief.

Giovanni Casper was 17 when he killed another teen in what police described as a gang-related shooting at a Kentwood skating rink. His no-parole sentence was upended when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 said mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers was unconstitutional. It later said the ruling must be applied retroactively.

A Kent County judge in Sept. 2016 re-sentenced Casper to between 40 and 60 years in prison. It was the harshest sentence available for juvenile offenders short of life. He also was given a mandatory two years for a felony firearms conviction.

“I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago,’’ Casper said during the re-sentencing hearing before Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Leiber. “I made a terrible decision that night; I think about it constantly.’’

Casper’s lawyer at the time sought a lesser term. As it stands, Casper, now 28, will be 59 years old before he can be considered for release.

Casper’s case is set for review Wednesday, Jan. 3 before the Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids. Four other Kent County juvenile lifer cases are on the Appeals Court docket for next week.  Those defendants are Demariol Boykin, Christopher Peltier, Gregory Wines and Juan Cantu.

“Obviously, they’re not happy but I think we did our due diligence in what we’re supposed to do in reviewing those cases and applying what the Supreme Court told us what we needed to do,’’ Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said.

At the time of the ruling, there were about 360 Michigan inmates serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles, including two dozen in Kent County.

The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office said it would not oppose reduced sentences in about half of the cases. The minimum sentence can fall between 25 and 40 years; the maximum can be no less than 60 years. 

“We thought these cases were ones that were benefiting in getting out of prison a little bit earlier, given the circumstances,’’ Becker said.

Prosecutors can still seek no-parole sentences, but the U.S. Supreme Court said it should be reserved for the "rarest'' of offenders.

In Kent County, no-parole sentences are being sought for 13 killers, including a Walker teen who stabbed his mother and two sisters 15 years ago this month. Jon D. Siesling was 17 at the time of the Jan. 22, 2003 murders inside the family’s home on Walker Avenue NW north of Int. 96.

Now 32, Siesling is being held at the Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven.

His case and the others are in limbo pending a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court on whether they should be re-sentenced by a judge or a jury. Once that decision is made, circuit court hearings will be set for each of the 13 cases. They'll include facts about the original crime and information about the inmate's behavior while in prison.

“Hopefully by this summer we’ll have some sort of guidance on what to do,’’ Becker said. “We’re all waiting. It’s not just our office because it’s a huge issue statewide.’’

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