When 60 years isn’t a life sentence …

Terrell Canady was 15 when he was imprisoned in 2004 for murdering a prostitute. He will be at least 75 years old before he can be released.

And since the state of Connecticut doesn’t label Canady’s sentence “life without parole” — the judge ruled instead, that Canady would serve a 60-year sentence — Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision barring life imprisonment for juvenile offenders will likely have no impact on him.

A New Haven native, Canady is serving his sentence at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield.

“He will serve every day of that 60 years,” Vito Castignoli, the trial lawyer for Canady, said Monday. “It’s semantics, really. He’s going to spend his life in jail.”

Currently, 30 other inmates in Connecticut are in adult prisons serving 60 years because of crimes committed before they were 18 years old, according to the State Department of Correction. One, Keith Belcher, was 14 when sentenced to 60 years for first-degree kidnapping.

“We have a lot of inmates who are serving very long terms,” said Mike Lawlor, the Malloy administration’s criminal justice adviser. “This [Supreme Court] ruling does not invalidate any of those sentences.”

Canady’s 60-year sentence is not affected by the court’s decision, because state law provided the trial judge with the discretion to send him away for as few as 25 years. The judge imposed the maximum of 60 years instead.

“They’re effectively life [sentences], but we don’t call them that,” said Kevin Kane, the chief state’s attorney.

The split 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling announced Monday will for the first time restrict state legislatures from mandating life sentences for crimes committed by juveniles.

“I don’t think this case says you can’t give them 175 years… This is a pretty narrow holding; it really only addresses the mandatory nature of the sentences,” said Christine Rapillo, the director of juvenile defense for the public defender’s office. “You have to have some chance to use discretion to consider the kid’s youth and how the kid’s youth makes them less legally culpable.”

Connecticut law allows juveniles to be sentenced to life without possibility of parole for capital felonies, which include the murder of a police officer or a child, murder for hire, the murders of multiple victims and murders committed during a kidnapping or rape. Officials with the prosecutors office called these sentences “extremely rare”.

Nationwide, Human Rights Watch estimated there are more than 2,500 children serving life without the chance of parole that this decision will directly impact. In Connecituct, the state department reports that in the last 21 years there have been five juveniles sentenced to life without parole after being found guilty of a capital felony. Those juveniles include Ronnie Hinton, Jamaal Coltherst, Norman Gaines, Mark Edwards and Anthony Allen.

In Connecticut, Lawlor said the administration may propose legislation that would provide inmates like Canady with the chance to get out before he’s 75 years old. State law now provides juveniles sentenced to 60-plus years to seek a sentence modification with the consent of the prosecutor.

“I suspect that’s not common,” said Kane, unaware of any cases in which a prosecutor has agreed to allow a hearing to be held to consider reducing the sentence.

“Prosecutors effectively have the veto power when it comes to lessening a sentence,” said Lawlor, the longtime co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee before joining the Malloy administration as the undersecretary of policy and management. He also is vice chairman of a panel considering recommending removing that power from the state’s attorneys office.

Lawlor said having a 14-year-old serving a definite 60-year sentence “is a problem that needs to be addressed. Next year, this will be an important topic, and we will need to explore whether these sentences are appropriate in light of this [court] decision.”

A bill that would have permitted sentence reviews never made it out of the Judiciary Committee this past legislative session, though its biggest advocate said a change may be unavoidable now.

“Connecticut will certainly have to deal with revising its law. You can’t just lock up a kid without taking a second look at whether that’s appropriate for 60 years,” said Sarah Russell, a lawyer with the Quinnipiac Law Clinic. “The Supreme Court, I think, states we have to address this.”