Updated at 2:50 p.m.
A man sentenced to life in prison for a high-profile double-murder he committed as a teenager could be freed under an agreement with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Fox, WBEZ has learned. The deal with attorneys for Addolfo Davis marks a major reversal in the state’s attorney’s office, which had vehemently argued against reducing Davis’ sentence under then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
On Friday, a Cook County judge finalized that agreement and updated Davis’ sentence.
The agreement to reduce Davis’ sentence is part of an overall shift in how Cook County prosecutors are handling those sentenced to life in prison as juveniles.
Here is a look at the shooting that landed Davis in jail and the subsequent appeals in the past three decades.
In October of 1990, 14-year-old Davis and two fellow gang members broke into a drug house on Chicago’s South Side and shot four people — two fatally. Prosecutors said Davis, who already had a juvenile record, was one of the shooters. His legal team has argued he was just the lookout.
Davis was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Davis’ attorneys have argued that Davis was peer-pressured into participating in a robbery that turned fatal. But prosecutor James McKay scoffed at the notion that Davis was somehow less involved in the crime than the other teenagers.
“This defendant was not a 14-year-old, naive, scared lookout,” McKay told the judge at a 2015 resentencing hearing.
The appeal process
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles amount to cruel and unusual punishment and are unconstitutional. As a result, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Davis — and about 80 other people sentenced to life without parole as juveniles — should get new sentencing hearings.
At Davis’ hearing, his attorney argued that he had changed during his decades in prison and was a totally different person. But McKay pushed back, telling the judge that Davis maintained his gang ties while in prison.
Ultimately, Judge Angela Petrone sided with the prosecutor’s office and handed Davis another life sentence. That happened under former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Out of all the inmates who required new sentences, Davis was the only one who did not get a reduced sentence, according to Northwestern University’s Children and Family Justice Center.
Now, Foxx’s office has agreed to reduce Davis’ sentence. If it’s accepted by a judge, Davis will be released from prison in October 2020, at the age of 44.
In a joint motion filed at the end of June, Assistant Appellate Defender Heidi Lambros and Assistant State’s Attorney Alan Spellberg wrote that Petrone did not take into account “how children are different” from adults when resentencing Davis.
The motion is a big change for Spellberg, who in 2014, argued against new sentencing hearings for juveniles sentenced to life in prison.
Lambros declined to comment for this story. The state’s attorney’s office also declined to make attorneys available for an interview.
“Our decision takes into account Addolfo Davis’ crime, his age at the time of the offense, and the emerging science on the cognitive development of juveniles. We believe this outcome serves the best interests of justice,” spokesman Robert Foley said in the statement.
Shobha Mahadev, clinical assistant professor of law at Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center, said she’s seen a change in how Cook County handles the resentencing of people sentenced to life as juveniles since Foxx took over the office.
“I think for a long time, we were still seeing people demanding life sentences and things like that. And I think if anything, the agreement on Davis signals that change, that we don’t have to demand life in these cases,” Mahadev said.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that a Cook County judge finalized the agreement and updated Davis’ sentence on Friday, Sept. 22.
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him @pksmid.