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Kimonti Carter's Story Highlighted in the Seattle Times

Our movement brother and participatory defense organizer Kimonti Carter was featured in a Seattle Times' article titled "Kimonti Carter was freed from life in prison. Prosecutors want to send him back." The article details his story from being formerly incarcerated sentenced to life with out parole to being resentenced and beginning his journey on the outside and the attempt by prosecutors to re-incarcerate him. The article is written by Seattle Times Staff Reporter Nina Shapiro and we have shared an excerpt below. You can read the full article here. Kimonti is a participatory defense organizer with the Participatory Justice hub in Snohomish County, Washington.

 

"Kimonti Carter was freed from life in prison. Prosecutors want to send him back."



Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times


Kimonti Carter sat on a West Seattle porch waiting for his new life to begin.


No one was expecting him yet. He looked around, marveling at people walking about unencumbered by time limits and lines.


“No more living in a box,” he thought.


Carter was once condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison, where he became the subject of a documentary, “Since I Been Down.” The film portrays the rough Tacoma environment Carter grew up in, his transformation in prison and an education program he founded there.


A remarkable legal ruling resulted in his release. And a remarkable legal case could send him back to prison after more than a year and a half of freedom.


In 1997, two months after he turned 18, Carter fired upon a car of young people he mistook for rival gang members and killed a college student named Corey Pittman. Carter was convicted of aggravated murder due to a rarely used portion of a law about shootings from or near a car, and received a mandatory life without parole sentence.


But the state Supreme Court ruled in the 2021 Monschke case that such sentences are unconstitutional for 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds — part of a rethinking of culpability and punishment for young people as science has revealed more about their developing brains. A Pierce County Superior Court judge’s resentencing in July 2022 led to Carter’s release that same month.


He had been incarcerated for 25 years.


Since then, the now 44-year-old has found work providing resources and mentorship to people involved with the criminal legal system, moved into a Central District town house and met Kristina Jorgensen, who’s active in the prison reform movement. They recently celebrated their one-year anniversary as a couple.


Yet, in a state Supreme Court case whose decision is imminently due, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office is appealing Carter’s new sentence and arguing he should be sent back to prison — potentially for the rest of his life.


It’s a case revealing tensions over an increased willingness by courts and lawmakers to consider easing sentences handed down in previous eras, when a tough-on-crime ethos ruled.


Washington is dealing with multiple edicts requiring resentencing, including the Legislature’s 2021 revision of the state’s three strikes law, dropping second-degree robbery as a strike; the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision that same year invalidating hundreds of thousands of drug convictions; and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting juveniles from receiving mandatory life without parole sentences.


Prosecutors’ objections to Carter’s resentencing raise some common questions: Is there a point to keeping people in prison who have clearly rehabilitated? What about the victims and promises to their families?


But these are usually questions asked when people are seeking release from prison, not when they’re already out.


Such cases do occasionally occur, according to Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who writes a blog about sentencing policy. They present a “unique violation of due process” in the minds of some academics, who hold “there are some special rights that a person ought to have once released,” Berman said.


At the same time, he added, if a lower court made a mistake — or worse, flagrantly violated the law — many people would seek a correction, as Pierce County Prosecutor Mary Robnett contends she’s doing in Carter’s case.


“The humanity of Kimonti Carter is not lost on me,” she said. “But I also believe there’s a huge principle at play here.”


Robnett and her staff argue judges lacked authority to resentence Carter and a woman resentenced and released for the same reason, Shawn Reite. Only the Legislature can make sentencing laws, and it has yet to give direction to judges by revising the aggravated murder statute as it applies to young adults.


“We need to know what the rules are because we do have a community to answer to, and it’s important to us that we’re able to be consistent and follow the law,” said Diane Clarkson, one of Robnett’s deputies and an original prosecutor in Carter’s 1998 murder case. “It is not personal. It is never personal.”


Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said he believes he has momentum this session behind a bill that would provide legislative clarity, sentencing 18- to 20-year-olds convicted of aggravated murder to anywhere from 30 years to life, which at the low end is five years above the juvenile minimum for that crime. The bill would also greenlight resentencing.


House Bill 1396 and the Carter case could potentially affect about 50 people sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as young adults. Sixteen received new sentences after the state Supreme Court’s 2021 decision regarding such sentences and five were released, according to the state Department of Corrections.


Carter’s new life may be tenuous, but in some ways it’s a source of wonder. On a recent January day, he sat at a table between his comfortable living room, where he sometimes holds work and community meetings, and his kitchen counter, graced with artificial yellow orchids.


“The crazy part about it is,” he said, “since I was 11 years old, this is the longest I’ve ever been free.”

 

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