PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The 3rd Circuit paroled an 82-year-old inmate who may have been improperly convicted of raping and murdering a 12-year old girl in 1966, a crime for which he was sentenced to life in prison.
The court noted that it did not determine whether Louis Mickens-Thomas was guilty or innocent of the crime for which he has served 47 years in prison, but that the parole board has committed several violations by not processing his applications for release.
On three separate occasions in 1997, 1998 and 2000, the Pennsylvania probation and parole board had denied parole to Mickens-Thomas, who "has consistently maintained his innocence throughout his two trials and 47 years of incarceration," the ruling states
"We conclude that the board has repeatedly failed to comply with our instructions to evaluate Thomas' request for parole under the parole laws and guidelines that existed at the time of Thomas' conviction," Judge Ronald Buckwalter wrote for the court's three-judge panel.
Instead of evaluating the man's requests under parole guidelines that existed at the time of his conviction in the 1960s, the board has repeatedly, incorrectly evaluated him under laws amended in 1996, which was the year Thomas was eligible for parole.
The court became involved after Thomas filed a habeas petition in 1999 against the board for unconstitutionally denying parole. A federal judge granted the petition in 2002 and remanded the matter to the board to consider Thomas's application under pre-1996 law. The Philadelphia-based federal appeals court upheld the ruling in 2003, but the board has simply refused to comply.
The court later granted Thomas "unconditional habeas corpus relief," but the parole board assigned him to an "admitters" sex-offender treatment program as part of his parole. While Thomas did attend this program, he reported himself for kissing a woman against her will, which landed him back in prison for parole violations.
Since being incarcerated for the second time, the parole board has refused Thomas' parole every year since 2006 based on his need to participate in a sex offender program. Buckwalter ruled that this denial violates the ex post facto clause of the Constitution, as such a program would require Thomas to admit guilt, which he has consistently declined to do since 1966.
Buckwalter also ruled that the board's claims that Thomas demonstrates "escalating patterns of high risk behavior" are also unfounded, as it is based on a single incident involving kissing a woman that Thomas himself reported.
The ruling also states that an attorney for the parole board essentially conceded during oral arguments that "Thomas will not be released on parole until he admits guilt as part and parcel of a sex offender treatment program." Buckwalter ruled to vacate a previous judgment denying Thomas parole and directed to release Thomas on parole forthwith.
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