Sheldry Topp, Michigan's oldest "juvenile offender" released at age 74


After spending more than 56 years behind bars, Sheldry, 74, left the jail on Thursday and headed to a free dinner with his brother.

Topp was the oldest "juvenile convict" of Michigan before his release. Two Supreme Court decisions in the United States changed the life of Topp.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a minor to automatic life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional and constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" even if the minor had been convicted of murder.

On Tuesday, Topp appeared before a judge to review his sentence. The prosecution sought to condemn Topp to life without parole.

Prosecutors argued that Topp had not acted by the immaturity of his youth when he had stabbed a man in 1962, and had asserted that he was "irreparably corrupted." ", according to court documents. The Oakland County Attorney did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Topp never appealed his conviction but was denied a commuted sentence in 1987 and 2008. He spent most of his sentence in jail at a facility near Lake Michigan with the level of minimum security.

When Judge James Alexander sentenced Topp to 40 or 60 years in prison Tuesday, he had already served 56 years and accumulated more than 10 years of good behavior, allowing him to be released without a parole hearing, said Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

"I feel really good, I do not know how I feel for tomorrow, but I do not think I'll feel worse," said Topp laughing a few minutes after crossing the prison barrier.

Topp, who uses a walker after having a stroke in 2016, plans to stay with his family, which he says has supported him throughout his jail term.

A life of violence

Topp was captured in Chicago in 1962 within two weeks of fatally stabbing Charles Davis, 50, after Topp broke into Davis' home.

The young teenager Topp confessed, claiming that he had waited until it was pitch dark in front of a house that he thought looked like "no matter who with money was living" . When Davis discovered Topp and started fighting with him, he stabbed the man four times, then stole Davis' car and cut the phone line before escaping to Chicago, according to court documents.

According to court documents, Topp had been coming in and out of psychiatric institutions since the age of 12, and had claimed to be sneaking out of a psychiatric institution in Pontiac, in the Michigan, the day of the murder. The records show that the doctors gave her electroconvulsive therapy and hydrotherapy, a treatment in which a person is wrapped in wet sheets.

Topp was abused by his father at an early age, including frequent beatings with an extension cord, according to court documents. Topp's sister said he saw his father beat him with a baseball bat and records show that he was placed in a juvenile home after begging his mother not to return him home.

Medical experts testified in Topp's sentence that he was a child under duress and that he was not above his rehab capacity.

The Court's records show that Topp attended rehabilitation programs, attended university courses, and held various jobs during her life in prison.

"It was something that I had to do if I wanted to get out of prison. I had to do it. But I started learning a lot of things that made me think about why I did what I did and why I should not do it. do not do them, "said Topp.

Topp said that towards the end of his father's life, they made a "little deal" and exchanged birthday cards each year.

Minors in prison

The Sentencing Project, a national advocacy group, released a study at the time of the 2012 Supreme Court decision. The group found that 47% of juveniles serving life sentences with no possibility of release conditional were physically assaulted and 77% of the girls serving a sentence reported having been sexually assaulted.

In the Supreme Court's decision, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, wrote: "Compulsory life without parole for a minor excludes consideration of its chronological age and its characteristics. distinctive – including immaturity, impetuosity and lack of appreciation of risks and risks.

Prosecutors may still apply for life sentences without parole in certain circumstances, but the Supreme Court ruling stated that minors generally can not be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Twenty-nine states still allow minors to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, with most cases in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana, according to The Sentencing Project.

In Michigan, another 359 people, such as Topp, were serving their sentences without the possibility of parole for a crime committed as a minor when the Supreme Court ruled that they were entitled to a conviction.

Since then, 82 have been released on parole and 151 have been sentenced, according to Gautz.

In January 2019, five people were sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole, Gautz said.

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