Why convicted murderer Tabitha Buck could get out of prison early

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa.- It's been nearly 30 years since Conestoga Valley High School Student Laurie Show was stabbed to death by multiple people, including Tabitha Buck. Both were teenagers at the time. The incident made national headlines, and was even featured in TV shows like "American Justice" and "20/20".

On Oct. 1, 1992, Buck was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury in Lehigh County. While jurors and prosecutors couldn't prove Buck was the one who stabbed Show, she was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She has been at SCI Muncy ever since.

Today, there's a possibility Buck could be let out of prison on parole by the end of the month for two major reasons.

First, there was the  2012 U.S. Supreme Court case Miller VS. Alabama. In a 5-4 ruling, the Justices decided life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles is unconstitutional because minors are "constitutionally different" from adults. They cited the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Four years later, in Montgomery VS. Louisiana, The Supreme Court ruled Miller Vs Alabama retroactively applied to people who had already been sentenced in years prior under the same circumstances, that includes Buck's sentencing.

In late 2017, A Lancaster County judge told Buck she would be eligible for parole in a few years, and we're coming up on that threshold. Some officials say she could be out before Christmas.

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman told Fox43 if Buck was a few months older at the time, her only option at this point would be commutation.

The idea isn't sitting well with some law enforcement officials. Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman says Buck should stay behind bars without question.

"The courts ruled and we follow the law, but that in no way diminishes the added emotional trauma this process has caused to those who have already suffered" he told Fox43 in a statement. "Most of all, we must remember the innocent victims, whose lives were taken, have no ability to appeal or receive a new sentence."

Fox43 reached out to Buck's attorney for comment, but he has not responded so far.

The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole listed a few reasons why Buck could be released so early, including good behavior in prison, a positive recommendation by the PA Department of Corrections, and participation in prison programs, among other things.

If she is released, Buck will never be allowed to visit or live in Lancaster County.

There were a number of convicts in our area who appealed their life sentences after Miller Vs. Alabama.

Michael Bourgeois was 17 when stabbed, shot, beat, and tortured Terry and Lucy Smith at their home in Ephrata, Lancaster County back in 2001. He was sentenced to consecutive life terms. But after appealing, Bourgeois was re-sentenced to 80 years to life in prison.

In 1981, John Waters sexually-assaulted and killed Steve Turner in a barn in Hampden Township, Cumberland County. He was 16 at the time, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Two years ago, he appealed the sentence and was re-sentenced to 35 years to life. However, he was sentenced to an additional four to ten years in prison for sexual assault. He's eligible parole in 2020.

Jordan Wallick was convicted in the 2012 shooting death of James Wallmuth, III, in Foundry Park, York. He was given a mandatory life sentence, but it was reduced to 20 years to life, and is eligible for parole in 2040. Wallick was the first juvenile in York County, who was serving a life sentence, to be re-sentenced following the Miller Vs. Alabama ruling.

But the Supreme Court's ruling is still being debated in current cases today, and some underage convicts could still be sentenced to life without parole.

The D.C. Sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo, was 17 in 2002 when he and his mentor, John Allen Muhammad, drove around the country and shot at people at random. The two killed 14 people, including 10 over a three week period in the Washington area. Authorities arrested Malvo and Muhammad near Frederick, Md., and prosecuted them in Virginia the next year. At the time, he was given four life sentences, but a federal judge granted him a re-sentencing motion in 2017. That judge pointed out Boyd's convictions in Fairfax County, Virginia were undisturbed and new sentences could still result in life without parole.

This is where it gets tricky. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) appealed the federal judge's ruling. Then, in 2018, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit sided with Malvo. So, Herring appealed again, arguing the lower courts improperly expanded the Supreme Court's rulings to cases where the court had discretion in sentencing, as opposed to a mandatory life sentence. Because of this conflict, The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear Malvo's case.

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