TACOMA — Barry Massey was 14 when he became the youngest person in the United States ever sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On Friday, Massey, who was convicted of killing Steilacoom marina owner Paul Wang in 1987, will return to Pierce County Superior Court to be resentenced under a new law that might one day allow him to walk free.
Judge Thomas Larkin is expected to sentence Massey, now 40, to a term of 25 years to life in prison. Massey’s release date, if he gets one, then would be up to the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board.
“There’s no discretion here as far as Mr. Massey is concerned,” said his attorney, David Zuckerman. “The judge must sentence him to a minimum term of 25 years and a maximum term of life.”
It’s impossible to know what the sentence review board would do with the case, and Zuckerman declined to say Tuesday if or when he would take Massey’s case to the board. His client already has served more than 25 years in prison.
Massey twice sought relief from the state’s Clemency and Pardons Board. He got its blessing in 2006 when it voted 4-1 to recommend his sentence be reduced to 25 years in prison, but then-Gov. Chris Gregoire denied him clemency.
Then, in 2010, the clemency board voted 3-2 to reject his bid for relief.
The murder of Wang shocked Pierce County, both for its brutality and the age of his assailants.
Massey was 13 and co-defendant Michael Harris 15 when they entered his shop, shot him twice and then stabbed him numerous times before looting the store of candy, cash and merchandise.
Both were prosecuted as adults and convicted of the state’s highest crime – aggravated first-degree murder. Both were sentenced to life without parole.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding the case Miller v. Alabama, ruled it was unconstitutional for juveniles to receive automatic sentences of life without the possibility of parole.
Such sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment for people’s whose brains still were developing and who might not have the wisdom or judgment to always know the impact of their actions, the high court ruled.
The Legislature last year passed a law eliminating mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of aggravated first-degree murder. Instead, the law now makes people convicted of the crime before they turn 16 eligible for parole after 25 years.
A judge still could sentence someone who is 16 or 17 to life in prison without parole but only after holding a hearing to consider possible mitigation.
The law also was made retroactive.
Harris has not petitioned for relief under the new law, which went into effect Sunday.