The Minnesota Supreme Court ended any hopes of freedom for convicted murderer Timothy P. Chambers when it affirmed his conviction and life sentence this week.
Chambers, now 34, has spent almost half of his life in the state prison system. He was 17 in 1996 when he stole a car at a Prior Lake mall, led police on a 35-mile high-speed chase and ultimately slammed into an unmarked squad car at the top of an exit ramp, killing Rice County sheriff’s deputy John Liebenstein, who was behind the wheel.
A Rice County jury decided that Chambers intentionally killed the deputy and convicted him of first-degree murder. The judge gave him Minnesota’s mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the Eighth Amendment forbids a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, saying it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Chambers was one of seven men in prison in Minnesota who found a new hope, albeit a long shot, in that ruling.
The state’s highest court said Wednesday, however, that the ruling from the nation’s highest court does not apply retroactively to Chambers’ appeal, thus his sentence stands.
Justice Paul H. Anderson dissented sharply from his colleagues, and Justice Alan Page joined in the dissent.
“The Supreme Court has apprised us of the fact that [Chambers’] sentence … is tantamount to a death sentence,” Anderson wrote. “We must not only listen to, but we must respond appropriately to the message the Supreme Court has sent to us. Unfortunately, with the decision rendered by the majority today, we have failed to do so.”
It was unclear whether the others in Minnesota prisons who received mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole when they were juveniles have appealed their sentences to the state Supreme Court.