State courts to review sentencing of Tamrah Leonard’s killer

New Jersey’s “excessive punishment panel’’ of learned judges couldn’t get Tamrah Leonard’s killer, Lamar Warren, a break on his 39-year sentence.

Superior Court appeals judges Paulette Sapp-Peterson, Trenton’s own, and Jack Sabatino sent the Warren case back to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mark Fleming for “reconsideration.’’

The panel affirmed the judgment of the trial court. “However, we remand to the trial court for reconsideration of whether the conviction for possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose merges with the aggravated manslaughter conviction.’’

In other words, maybe the charge for possession of the handgun that killed 13-year-old Leonard in a drive-by gang shooting on June 7, 2009, shouldn’t have been counted for sentencing purposes in this case.

“There are no free crimes,’’ Fleming said, adding that his reading of sentencing rules permitted him to give Warren 30 years for the reduced murder charge, plus another nine for the weapons offense.

The judge also noted that 30 years on aggravated manslaughter plus nine more for the gun was the deal worked out between the Mercer prosecutor and Warren lawyer Frank Gleason, whose client could get out by age 55 with good behavior.

Across America, most states have “excessive punishment’’ panels intended to reverse, typically, terms of life or near life given to non-violent, if repeat, offenders. Jersey’s was set up in 1987.

In Jersey, any convict can appeal saying the punishment was too harsh and the appeals-court judges assigned to the panel will give them a hearing.

Jersey convicts also are entitled to “post-conviction relief’’ on a variety of grounds other than the sentence was too severe.

A recent ACLU report said “thousands of prisoners are serving life without parole sentences in the United States for nonviolent drug and property crimes.’’

But the judge and Assistant Mercer Prosecutor Doris Galuchie decided Warren was no poster boy for the campaign against excessive judicial punishment.

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