CHEYENNE, Wyoming — A lawyer for a Sheridan man serving life for his role in a home invasion killing urged the Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday to throw out his sentence.
Wyatt Bear Cloud was originally sentenced to life in prison in the 2009 killing of Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst. Bear Cloud was 16 when he and two other teenagers broke into Ernst's home and one of the other teens shot Ernst with a stolen pistol.
The U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders in 2012. In response, a state judge resentenced Bear Cloud last summer to life in prison but allowed him the chance for parole after 25 years for the killing and about 10 more years on a burglary conviction.
Cheyenne lawyer Deborah Roden urged the court to rule that Bear Cloud's revised sentence still amounts to an unconstitutional life sentence given his age and life expectancy in prison. She cited in her written brief a Michigan study that found the life expectancy of inmates who started serving their sentences as juveniles was 50.6 years.
Roden said it's likely that Bear Cloud will die at age 50, while he wouldn't be eligible for parole until 61 at the earliest.
"The big question before this court is how will Wyoming choose to treat juvenile offenders," Roden said.
Roden also said that Bear Cloud's sentence of up to 25 years for an auto burglary that yielded the gun later used in Ernst's killing was too harsh. She said such charges against juveniles are commonly pleaded down to misdemeanors.
Mari Geringer of the Wyoming Attorney General's Office urged the Supreme Court to uphold Bear Cloud's sentence.
Geringer said that since Bear Cloud's resentencing, he's no longer serving a juvenile sentence of life without parole. She noted that if he lives to his 70s, he will have a chance to be released.
The Wyoming Legislature last year changed state law to specify that juveniles convicted of murder will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years provided they don't commit other crimes in prison.
Two other defendants in the Ernst killing were teens at the time, though one was an adult. They received sentences of life without parole, but the younger defendant, triggerman Dharminder Vir Sen, was resentenced recently to make him eligible for parole after serving 35 years. Sen is also appealing his new sentence.
The Wyoming Supreme Court will rule later on Bear Cloud's appeal.