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A team of University of Utah law students and their professor are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case of Robert Cameron Houston, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing a Clearfield youth counselor when he was just 17.
Professor Michael Teter on Friday filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, according to a U of U news release.
Teter said the time may be right for the high court to take the case, given a number of recent rulings on sentencing juveniles, including cases where the court has held that it is unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders to the death penalty; that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life without parole for non-homicide offenses, and that it is unconstitutional for states to use a mandatory sentencing scheme that requires life without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide.
"There is a gap in the court's cases about whether it is always unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without parole. This petition seeks to have the court address that question," Teter said, according to the release.
In a 2007 deal with Davis County prosecutors, Houston pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in the 2006 slaying of 22-year-old Raechale Elton, and charges of aggravated sexual assault and rape were dropped. After a sentencing hearing, a 2nd District jury voted 11-1 to sentence Houston to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
On Feb. 15, 2006, Elton gave Houston a ride from a residential treatment center to his independent living home because it was snowing and she did not want the youth to have to walk the four blocks in bad weather, court documents say.
When they arrived at the home, Houston grabbed Elton, held a knife to her throat and raped her, according to the documents. When Elton would not stop screaming, the teen stabbed her in the side of the neck and slit her throat, then tried to break her neck and rip out her trachea, the documents say.
Houston then got into Elton's car and sped off, driving into a house in what he claimed was an attempt to kill himself.
Earlier this year, the Utah Supreme Court upheld Houston's life-without-parole sentence. Four of the high court justices agreed that the punishment was constitutional and rejected the argument that Houston received ineffective assistance from his defense attorneys.
The lone dissenter, Justice Christine Durham, wrote that the sentence is unconstitutionally disproportionate for a juvenile and that Houston should have received the only other term available at the time of his sentencing, which was 20 years to life behind bars.