Will Dakotah Eliason get chance at parole?Published 10:01pm Thursday, February 7, 2013
It is too soon to tell if a recent ruling by a federal judge means a Niles boy serving a life sentence for murdering his grandfather will someday get out of prison.
Dakotah Eliason was 14 when he fatally shot his grandfather, Jesse Miles, while Miles was asleep on the couch in March 2010. Eliason was sentenced to life without parole in Berrien County Court.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara agreed with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life without the possibility of parole. O’Meara also said this ruling would be applied retroactively — a detail with which the Michigan Court Appeals disagrees.
So what does this mean for Eliason?
“It gives real hope to youth like Dakotah, who will one day be very different adults than the children that committed the offense,” said Eliason’s lawyer Jonathan Sacks, deputy director of the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office.
While Sacks said he was pleased with the ruling, he said it is too early to tell what it means for the hundreds of juvenile lifers in the state.
He said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette could appeal the decision.
“It is impossible to predict how this will play out,” Sacks said. “Most of us expect it will have to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court down the road.”
Eliason’s case is currently in direct appeal.
Sacks said, if O’Meara’s decision stands as it is today, juvenile lifers such as Eliason would see something similar to Michigan’s parolable life sentence. The way parolable life works, Sacks said, is a person must serve 15 years before going to the parole board for the first time.
Lanny Fisher, Eliason’s former attorney, said, even if Eliason loses his appeal, he will be resentenced because of the Supreme Court ruling and O’Meara’s ruling.
He agrees with the ruling.
“When you are 14 years old, you are a kid and I don’t think you should be punished like an adult,” Fisher said. “This is a very messed up 14-year-old kid, and they are punishing him as though he is a fully functional adult … it’s just unfair.”