BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - A Battle Creek man convicted of murder as a 16-year-old was resentenced from life to at least 37 years in prison.
Terrence Kelly, 41, is the second of eight juvenile lifers from Calhoun County to be re-sentenced after a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that life without parole for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment. A third man will be sentenced Jan. 26.
Kelly has served more than 23 years toward his new 37- to 60-year sentence.
Kelly's attorney, Sofia Nelson, argued for a minimum sentence of 25 years, which would have made him eligible for parole in 2021, but Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge Sarah Lincoln said Kelly's prison history shows he is not ready for possible release.
Kelly was sentenced Jan. 30, 1995, to life without parole after a jury conviction for first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony for the May 4, 1993, shooting death of Edward Wilkins, 18.
Wilkins was shot outside 176 Cherry St. during an argument the two teenagers had while playing a video game. Battle Creek police said Kelly, known as "Little T," shot Wilkins three times in the back and legs and then fled before throwing a .22 caliber revolver in the Battle Creek River near Elm Street.
"He was my protector, my best friend and my idol," said Tinya Wilkins, the sister of the victim. "He was fast and brave and strong and he had a heart of gold.
"I never thought my family would have to relive this nightmare again," she told the judge.
She said her brother loved to sing, ride trick bikes and play video games.
"My brother's death can not be undone therefore justice should not be undone."
Assistant Prosecutor Chris Baldwin said Kelly was not an accomplice but the gunman in the homicide.
"He may have been a juvenile but he made a very adult decision to end someone else's life. Sixteen was old enough to know what he was doing," Baldwin said.
Baldwin said Kelly's prison record of 60 misconducts, which include an assault on another prisoner in July, shows "he is not ready in the near future to be released into society."
When Kelly spoke, he first turned to the Wilkins family and apologized.
"I made a terrible decision and took the life of an innocent teenager. I take full responsibility," he said. "I carry it with me each and every day."
But he told the judge, "I am not the same scared, immature, selfish, irresponsible and violent drug dealer I was back then. I still have work to do to be a better human being and I am taking it one step at a time."
His attorney, Sofia Nelson, told the court her client came from a poor childhood, living in poverty and born to a 14-year-old mother and witnessed violence and was himself shot at age 15.
"There is no excuse for what Mr. Kelly did but there are explanations," Nelson said. She said Kelly declined a prosecution offer to plea to second-degree murder in exchange for a minimum sentence of 20 years, or he likely would have been paroled by now.
"He has not been perfect and is still on a journey of self reflection and growth and coming to terms with his childhood," she said. "He has accepted full responsibility and come to terms with the gravity of what he did."
Kelly told the judge, "I cannot repay for what I have taken but I will strive to build a life for me and my loved ones. And I imposed on myself an extra responsibility. I owe it to (Edward) and his family to live life for both of us. To live a life full of dignity and compassion and commitment to help others."
But Lincoln said she could not agree to changing the minimum sentence to 25 years because of Kelly's prison record.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.
© 2018 WZZM-TV