In 1994, 17-year-old Charlie McGowan agreed to help rob a dry cleaners with three other people in Jackson, Mississippi. The four males entered the cleaners through the back door and ordered the three employees to lay on the floor. The robbers emptied the cash drawer and stole the employees' purses.
As the group started to flee, one of them – Frederick Burton, an adult male much older than Charlie who had a criminal history – shot the three female employees laying on the floor. One of them died.
Although Charlie did not shoot anyone, he was convicted of capital murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault for his involvement in an armed robbery that resulted in a murder. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole – the only sentence available under Mississippi law at the time for a juvenile convicted of this offense – as well as four consecutive 20-year terms. Charlie was set to spend his entire life and ultimately die in a Mississippi prison.
In 2012, two U.S. Supreme Court decisions placed Charlie’s sentencing in a new light:
In 2013, Charlie’s case was referred to Bradley’s Jackson office, and Michael Bentley began working on the case pro bono, launching a successive post-conviction proceeding in the Mississippi Supreme Court. He filed a motion to vacate Charlie’s sentence based on the grounds that Charlie’s mandatory life sentence for capital murder was unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s June 25, 2012, decision in Miller v. Alabama. On other separate grounds, the motion to vacate was based on Charlie’s de facto life sentence for his non-homicide crimes being unconstitutional in light of the May 17, 2012, decision in Graham v. Florida.
The Supreme Court granted the motion to vacate and ordered the Hinds County Circuit Court to consider Charlie’s petition for resentencing. After Michael held a briefing in the trial court and conducted lengthy negotiations with the Hinds County’s district attorney, the DA agreed to a resentencing order that would vacate all of Charlie’s sentences and resentence him to life with the possibility of parole. The resentencing order would also make his 20-year term sentences concurrent (rather than consecutive), which meant Charlie would be required to serve 20 years minimum in prison – not 80.
In February 2019, the Hinds County Circuit Court judge entered the proposed resentencing order. As a result, Charlie is now eligible for parole under Mississippi law. This victory is a life-changing event for Charlie, who is now 41 years old and has spent more than half his life in prison.