COUNCIL BLUFFS — A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling should bolster the chances of release for a Council Bluffs man sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when he was teen, according to his attorney as well as the prosecuting attorney.
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling declared as unconstitutional state laws that require juveniles convicted of murder to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The court’s 5-4 ruling left open the possibility that judges could sentence juveniles to life terms, but said state law cannot automatically impose such sentences.
Jon Kinnamon is an Iowa City attorney representing former Council Bluffs resident Jeffrey Ragland, who was 17 when he was convicted of first-degree murder in 1986. Kinnamon said the decision greatly increases the likelihood of parole for Ragland.
The court decision is specific that “you can’t mandate life in prison for juvenile offenders,” Kinnamon said. “That’s how I read the decision, that Mr. Ragland — and other people in his position — should be given an opportunity for parole.”
Timothy Sieff, 19, of Omaha died from head injuries after being struck with tire iron during a fight in the parking lot of the old Rog and Scotty’s Supermarket on West Broadway.
Ragland’s friend, Matthew Gill, wielded the tire iron. Gill pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was paroled after three years.
A jury found Ragland guilty of first-degree murder, and he was ordered to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ragland has filed numerous appeals since the conviction, and all have been unsuccessful.
However, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in March that Ragland could challenge his sentence as “illegal” and ask the court to rule whether it is cruel and unusual punishment under the state and federal constitutions.
A hearing in Pottawattamie County on that challenge has been on hold, pending the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“It looks like we will bring it back for re-sentencing,” Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said Thursday morning.
A sentence of life with parole likely will be the outcome of the process, Wilber said, and that gives Ragland a strong likelihood of release.
“(The new sentence) will put his future in the hands of the Iowa Department of Corrections and the Board of Parole,” Wilber said. “I anticipate he’ll get a fair look.”