Judge: Life without parole stands

Published 9:01 pm Saturday, April 2, 2016

In 2003, a 17-year-old Jerrard Cook pleaded guilty to the murder of Marvin Durr, at which time he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Thirteen years later, Cook asked the court for a re-sentencing to allow the possibility of parole. That request was denied Friday by Circuit Court Judge David Strong.

The hearing follows two United States Supreme Court cases. On June 24, 2012, the Supreme Court decided in Miller v. Alabama that a sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in some circumstances.

On Jan. 25, 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in Montgomery v. Louisiana that the previous decision applied retroactively. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in Parker v. State in 2013 that “Miller does not prohibit sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders.”

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On June 18, 2002, Cook, along with co-defendant Cearic Barnes, were discussing the possibility of stealing a vehicle for the purpose of committing armed robbery, according to court records.

Cook and Barnes ultimately flagged down Durr’s car. Durr, who was a friend of Cook’s, stopped and gave Cook a ride to an aunt’s home, court documents show.

Cook shot Durr on the ride over, according to court records. He and Barnes tried to remove the body from the car so they could dispose of it. When they couldn’t, Cook sat on Durr’s body and drove the car to a site where they eventually set the car on fire, according to court records.

Strong listed in his opinion seven factors that the sentencing authority must take into account for juvenile offenders: chronological age, immaturity, impetuosity, failure to appreciate risks and consequences, family and home environment, circumstances of the offense and the possibility of rehabilitation.

Strong’s opinion stated that the defendant was close enough to 18 that his age was not a significant enough factor to rule out life without parole.

“The defendant knew after he shot the victim that he should take actions to cover his tracks,” the court order said. “When he and Barnes were unable to move the victim out of his driver’s seat, he sat on top of the dead victim and drove his car. The court finds that there has been little, if any, proof of the defendant’s failure to appreciate risks and/or consequences of his actions.”

Also counting against Cook were the 29 rule violation reports Cook has accumulated during his time in prison. Strong did not address the defense’s argument that the violation reports were written early in Cook’s sentence.

“The court finds that Cook’s behavior while incarcerated indicates a failure and/or unwillingness to follow directions even in a structured environment,” the order stated. “The court does not find any significant possibility of rehabilitation in Jerrard Cook.”