Almost 30 years ago, two teenagers in Chester County were sentenced to life in prison without parole after they pleaded guilty in the killing of two people. The plea allowed them to avoid the death penalty.
The two convicted killers have been in prison ever since, and now are getting a chance at freedom because they were 16 years old when they committed the crimes.
Theodore Harrison Jr. and Robert Moore III, both of Fairfield County, were sentenced to life terms for the 1988 shooting deaths of Renee Crowl Collins, 22, and Brian Scott Stephenson, 18. The shootings happened in rural Chester County.
The U.S. Supreme Court and S.C. Supreme Court both have ruled in recent years that it’s unconstitutional for a person younger than 18 to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Harrison’s re-sentencing hearing started Monday at the Chester County Courthouse and is expected to last through Friday. Similar hearings for juveniles sentenced to life without parole have been held around the country.
Moore’s hearing is expected to come later this year.
Harrison admitted the crimes, and his guilt is not at issue, his lawyer, Micah Leddy, said in court. Leddy said he will ask for a lesser sentence because Harrison is “not incorrigible” and has improved his life in prison.
A psychologist who has testified in dozens of similar hearings testified Monday that teens brains are not fully developed at age 16. Harrison has been rehabilitated and is a “poster child” for development while incarcerated.
Harrison could have his sentence changed anywhere from time served - he has been in prison almost 30 years - to life, said Randy Newman, 6th Circuit solicitor. Harrison should remain in prison for life because of the brutality of the crimes, Newman said.
The bodies of the victims were found weeks after the crime but the case was unsolved for more than a year. Harrison and Moore were charged in 1989 with killing Collins and Stephenson.
Harrison and Moore were caught near Columbia, convicted of an unrelated carjacking and sent to prison for 25 years in 1989. That’s when they were charged in the Chester County murders, said Karen Fryar, 6th Circuit assistant solicitor.
Fryar said in court Monday that Harrison walked around with a gun in a holster before the killings.
While in prison, he later was charged and convicted of holding hostages and stabbing prison guards in a case that was overturned on appeal.
Harrison, now 46, spent much of two decades in solitary confinement after a 1995 prison riot in Columbia, Fryar said in court. Harrison has anti-social and other disorders and had a life of “violent criminal activity” before he was arrested, Fryar said.
The families of both victims in the 1988 slayings were in court Monday but did not speak.