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D.C. Juvenile Offender Finally Released After 26 Years Behind Bars

David Bailey was a reckless and violent 17-year-old when he shot and killed two people outside a Washington, D.C. night club. He was convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentence of 35 years to life.

According to The Appeal, “both of Bailey’s parents struggled with heroin dependency, according to court documents, and he was born opioid-dependent, which resulted in long-term symptoms. His father was violent toward his mother and as an infant he was passed between homes. He dropped out of school at age 13 and latched onto older children and adults who spent their days on the streets. He began selling marijuana and crack cocaine.”

During 26 years in prison, Bailey was written up for only one argument and one physical fight. Otherwise, his record was basically clean. He learned to read and write on his own, and obtained his GED. Programs aimed at rehabilitation were part of his day-to-day life while locked up, and he did his best to provide emotional and financial support to his two daughters.

James Zeigler, Bailey’s attorney, said he “had taken anger management courses, reformed his erratic behavior, and turned his life around.”

Citing modern neuroscience, the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in Miller v. Alabama (567 U.S. 460) and in Montgomery v. Louisiana (577 U.S.___2016) — the latter made the former retroactive — that brains are by no means fully developed until at least age 25. That makes youth offenders less culpable and capable of having greater capacity to change. Those Supreme Court decisions outlawed life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.

The District of Columbia passed a related law in 2016, the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA), giving Bailey and others in similar situations hope. IRAA allows people “who were under 18 when convicted who had served at least 20 years in prison to have their sentences reconsidered.”

However, in June 2018, the office of Jessie K. Liu, then the U.S. Attorney in D.C., opposed Bailey’s sentence reduction, writing that, “When scrutinized, defendant’s conduct while incarcerated is not that much different than that which resulted in the murder.”

Bailey found that characterization of his prison background was false. “They had nothing to support that,” he said. “I only got two shots in 25 years. You’re not talking about two months or two weeks or even a year. We’re talking about 25 years.”

In the first three years after IRAA took effect, the D.C. Attorney’s office attempted to block the resentencing of all 14 people whose motions were heard in court. Thirteen had their requests granted by Superior Court judges and have been released from prison. The office said in a statement that it “does not subscribe to an approach of unilateral opposition.”

Spokesperson Kadia Koroma said, “We are mindful that in each of these cases, the defendant has committed a serious crime, such as rape or murder. Because of this, we thoroughly review each motion and evaluate the defendant’s request for a sentence reduction knowing that this request could affect the victim, the victim’s family, and the community.”

The D.C. government in February 2019 stated there were nearly 100 eligible individuals who could apply for resentencing based on IRAA. Zeigler said he predicts the U.S. Attorney’s office to oppose resentencing in each case.

“Ordinarily, in most systems where you have the executive branch flatly refusing to apply in good faith a law that the legislative branch has enacted, there would be some sort of consequences for this,” he said. “Here, that is not the case. We have no control over our prosecutor’s office.”

There has been, however, one positive development. Finally, in September 2019, Bailey was released. He was 43 years old.