A Life Sentence Is Not Really Life

A murderer who gets a "life" sentence in NJ may not necessarily die in prison.  That's because the justice systems plays percentages when calculating how long an inmate should stay behind bars. 

Life is actually 75 years, max.  But that too can be lowered.

In a chilling murder trial unfolding in Mt. Holly, a Burlco public defender recently took the stand to try to explain.

Lenroy Laurance is one of 4 Philly men charged with carjacking a woman on a Frankford street and killing her in a Burlco field.  He could face 179 years if convicted of all the charges lodged against him.

But that won't ever happen.

Kevin Walker, who's been practicing criminal law more than 20 years, says Laurance likely will face a life sentence - again, 75 years.  And he would be entitled to parole after serving 85 percent of that - or about 64 years.  Laurance is 29. 

Walker represents Kareem Harrison, the youngest of the pack.  Harrison, who was 17, copped a plea and agreed to testify against the others.   

But here's where it gets messy.  Since Harrison plead guilty to manslaughter - not murder - he could get 30 years.  And, he would have to serve 25 years before he can be paroled.   

That's a shorter term than he would have gotten, but it's not certain how much shorter.  If a judge decided Harrison should be tried as an adult, could he have received a life sentence - or even 179 years - if convicted?  Can he get less than 30 years? 

Walker says the judge has great discretion at sentencing.  A judge can show leniency and go lower, or she can merge charges and decide on a life term. 

"It can be idiosyncratic," he said, describing sentencing hearings.  "You just don't know what's going to happen."