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State Supreme Court rules sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington state Supreme Court has ruled that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole violates the state's Constitution.

The decision was handed down Thursday, upholding a state Court of Appeals ruling in the case of Brian Bassett.

Bassett was 16 in 1995 when he shot and killed his parents, then drowned his 5-year-old brother in a bathtub in McCleary.

Court documents state that Bassett had been kicked out of his parents' home and was living in a shack when he killed them.

Bassett, now 38, was recently re-sentenced to life without parole under a new law.

His lawyers argued to the Court of Appeals that life without parole for 16- and 17-year-olds is "categorically unconstitutional," and the state Supreme Court agreed that it violates the Washington Constitution's ban on cruel punishment.

Life without parole, the court ruled, does not factor in "children's diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change," and it "poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment," court documents state.

A pediatric psychiatrist who treated Bassett before the murders testified that Bassett had suffered from an adjustment disorder, "struggling to cope effectively with the stressors of homelessness and his strained relationship with his parents."

"The psychologist testified that during a family counseling session, Bassett attempted to reconcile with his parents, expressing a desire to come back home, but his parents rejected the idea," court documents state.

Bassett provided evidence of his rehabilitation in court, noting that he has not had any prison violations since 2003 and has earned a GED and a full-tuition scholarship for college. He was also on the Edmonds Community College honor roll, according to court documents.

"Many letters from Bassett's supporters stated that he serves as a mentor to other men in prison," court documents state.

He also married a woman in 2010 after premarital counseling.

As of January 2018, 20 states and Washington, D.C., had abolished life without parole for juveniles.

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