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Judge voids governor’s commutation for teen with life sentence

In a ruling that clears the way for further challenges to the six life terms imposed on a man who was only 15 at the time of his crimes, a Norfolk federal judge has invalidated a governor’s effort to reduce the punishment.

Travion Blount was the youngest of three defendants accused of a 2006 robbery at a Norfolk home. He insisted on a trial and ended up with six life sentences plus 118 years. His co-defendants were sentenced to 10- and 12-year sentences.

Among his final acts as governor, Bob McDonnell issued what he termed a commutation, reducing Blount’s punishment to 40 years.

Blount’s lawyer, John Coggeshall, said McDonnell’s executive order offered little comfort for Blount since it might be invalidated at a later date. In the meantime, the sentence reduction frustrated Blount’s attempt to challenge his lengthy sentence under constitutional standards, Coggeshall argued.

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen agreed with Coggeshall that McDonnell’s executive order was void as unconstitutional. The state constitution allows for commutations only in death penalty cases. If viewed as a conditional pardon, the McDonnell order failed for lack of consent from the petitioner, Wright Allen said.

The judge’s ruling reinstates the original sentence of six life terms. The decision allows Blount to pursue his claim that the sentence is unconstitutional, Coggeshall said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicidal offenses. Coggeshall said he hopes to present figures to show that Virginia’s geriatric parole statute provides no meaningful hope for Blount’s early release.

“We’re asking for a reasonable sentence somewhat comparable to those of the other two defendants, especially considering that he was the youngest of the three,” Coggeshall said. “We suggested 20 years.”

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