A judge is asking for more guidance from the Iowa Supreme Court after denying the possibility of parole to a man convicted as a juvenile of first-degree murder.
Scott County Judge Joel Barrows on Tuesday ordered 33-year-old Romeo Hardin to remain in prison the rest of his life for the 1996 fatal shooting of Augustus "Gus" Nance.
"We're all hoping for more guidance from the Supreme Court," Barrows said after the hearing in Scott County District Court, Davenport. "How do we handle these cases, and what specifically should the criteria be?"
Hardin already was serving life in prison without parole when the Iowa Supreme Court vacated his sentence last year on the grounds that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles violate the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
The ruling gives district judges discretion.
Hardin is one of six Scott County murder convicts who are being resentenced. In February, Barrows sentenced another of the convicts, Christine Lockheart, 45, to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Lockheart was convicted for the murder and robbery of Floyd Brown in 1985. She was 17 at the time.
Hardin was 15 when he was accused of killing Nance.
Barrows said his decisions for both were "difficult" and didn't come without much research into their cases.
Both convicts were given a chance to argue their cases for parole.
For Hardin, his statement in court Tuesday was his second shot at freedom. He rejected a plea deal in 1997 for second-degree murder that would have had him serving not more than 50 years in prison.
"They told me I'd have to tell them who gave me the gun, who ordered the shooting," Hardin said Tuesday. "I didn't want to betray the people I thought were my family at the time."
Hardin spent two hours Tuesday morning talking about his childhood leading up to the night Nance was killed.
When he was 2 or 3 years old, his father was killed in a gang-related shooting, and his mother, Laura Hardin, was incarcerated. He was left in the care of his grandfather until his mother was released from prison when he was 5.
Hardin said his grandfather was "overprotective." But he paused a long time before talking about life with his mother.
"She did the best," he said. "It never really worked out, ever."
Living mostly in a poor neighborhood of Chicago, they never stayed in the same apartment for more than a few months. Hardin never completed a school year.
"The morals that Granddad instilled weren't there," he said. "With my mom, it was you stick up for each other, you fight, win. She had rules, but her rules were more to the criminal code, the street life."
Left alone, sometimes for days at a time, he went to the streets to find food. Sometimes, he stole food to survive.
At 9, Hardin was struck by a car and spent three days in the hospital. At the time, his grandfather tried to win custody, but his mother refused.
He attempted to run away from home at 13.
At 15, his mother moved him to Davenport. He began running with street gangs. He said the gangs accepted him like a member of the family.
"At the time, I felt rescued," he said.
Laura Hardin, who lives in Milwaukee and didn't attend Tuesday's hearing, couldn't be reached for comment.
Mike Adams, a state public defender, called Hardin's need to feel accepted by a street gang "pathetic." As he argued for the chance at parole, Adams said Hardin exhibited behavior characteristic of many juvenile delinquents.
As a young gang member, Hardin felt the need to earn respect, he said.
Shooting among rival gangs was a normal part of gang life in the mid-1990s, Hardin said. One gang would shoot at another gang's drug house just so police would be called to the house and seize the property.
"That's a way to stop their distribution and affect their profits," he said.
He said they didn't intend to kill one another.
A home on West 6th Street, Davenport, was identified as a rival's hangout. Hardin was the youngest in his gang, so he was picked to shoot at the house.
"I boasted how I would do it," he said. "I was talking like it was no big deal. I had to eat those words."
He could hear a party coming from one room of the house. So he focused on another, darkened room.
He fired eight rounds. Two struck Nance, a 21-year-old former gang member and convicted killer who had just been paroled from prison.
At Hardin's trial in March 1997, it was learned the two were friends.
One of the reasons Barrows gave for sentencing Hardin to life without parole on Tuesday was that he acted alone in shooting Nance.
Even his associates turned their backs.
Hardin said Tuesday he didn't want to take a plea deal out of loyalty to his gang "family." But one of his fellow gang members, 23-year-old Ricky Morrise of Rock Island, testified against Hardin at the trial.
Morrise told jurors that Hardin, the night Nance was slain, told him he "took care of some business."
Barrows said another reason for the sentence was that Hardin continues to be a discipline problem in prison.
When he was in his mid-20s, Hardin had to be transferred to the Oregon prison system because of fighting. Since his return to Iowa following the Supreme Court ruling, he has been cited with 25 violations of prison rules, including several this year.
Finally, Barrows said Hardin showed "little remorse" for killing Nance.
Scott County Attorney Mike Walton, who prosecuted Hardin at his trial, was at Tuesday's hearing.
As Walton left the courtroom, he tapped on Hardin's shoulder, saying, "Good luck, Romeo."