Lancaster man 31 years into life sentence will continue to serve time after Superior Court ruling

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Garey Thomas

LANCASTER, Pa. — A Lancaster murderer’s request for relief from a life sentence for a 1984 shooting is too late, according a Pennsylvania court.

Garey Thomas, now 68, was convicted in 1985 of first-degree murder for shooting Ricky Coward at King and Plum streets in Lancaster city.

Thomas approached Coward, who was seated on a bicycle, and shot him in the chest just after midnight on June 27, 1984.

The shooting was “a planned act” and done “intentionally with premeditation,” according to a criminal complaint filed by a Lancaster city police detective later in the day.

Last year, Thomas filed a petition for relief, based on a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed certain mandatory sentences unconstitutional.

A Lancaster County judge denied the petition in December. Thomas, 68, currently being held at the prison in Graterford, Montgomery County, then filed with the state Superior Court.

Assistant District Attorney Julie Slabinski, in a response to the petition, writes that Thomas is far too late and, even if timely, his challenge to the sentence wouldn’t hold water.

The high court agrees in a recent denial. The five-page opinion states that any challenge filed on the heels of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling must be within 60 days of that ruling.

Thomas filed nearly two years later, the opinion states.

Even if timely, the high court states, the challenge is without merit: the U.S. Supreme Court ruling doesn’t apply to sentences final, and not on active appeal, at the time of the ruling.