Legal advocates seek to overturn no-parole sentencing in felony-murder case

Pittsburgh City Paper, 09/21/22: “Derek Lee has been sentenced to die in prison on a second-degree murder conviction for a crime in which he did not take a life.

He did not kill or attempt to kill anyone, his lawyers say. But, in 2016, prosecutors working under District Attorney Stephen Zappala convinced a common pleas judge that Lee should be sentenced to life without parole.

Now, Pittsburgh-based law firm Abolitionist Law Center is hoping to overturn this through an appeal underway in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center, argued Tuesday on Lee’s behalf against the state’s mandatory life without parole sentencing for second-degree murder, which he says is ‘grossly disproportionate’ to Lee’s involvement in the underlying crime. In legal terms, Grote is arguing the sentencing violates Lee’s constitutional right to protection from cruel and unusual punishments…

Pennsylvania is one of eight states across the country where second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Opponents of mass incarceration often refer to life without parole sentences as ‘death-by-incarceration.’

With Lee’s case, the Abolitionist Law Center hopes to draw attention to structural injustices they say underlie felony-murder laws, which have been found to disproportionately impact youth, Black people, and women.”

Read the full story here.