A 36-year-old Rock Island man convicted as a teenager in the 1996 shooting death of Augustus “Gus” Nance in Davenport was given a new sentence Wednesday that gives him a chance at parole.
Scott County District Court Judge Joel Barrows, during a lengthy hearing, sentenced Romeo C. Hardin to life with the possibility of parole.
Barrows did not offer a recommendation on when, if ever, Hardin should be released from prison. That decision will ultimately be made by the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Hardin, who already has served 20 years in prison, indicated Wednesday that he will appeal the sentence.
He was 15 when he was charged with fatally shooting Nance, 21, on Aug. 22, 1996, in what prosecutors say was a gang-related shooting.
Hardin was convicted in 1997 of first-degree murder and other charges and was given an automatic sentence of life without parole.
The Iowa Supreme Court vacated that sentence in 2013 on the grounds that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles violate the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
In 2014, Barrows sentenced him again to life without parole and thought that he had discretion in these cases.
Hardin appealed, and in September, the Iowa Supreme Court vacated the sentence and referred to its ruling in another case, State v. Sweet, which holds that it is unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life without parole because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Hardin, who represented himself during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, asked the judge to consider giving him a deferred sentence, saying that life with the possibility of parole was still cruel and unusual punishment.
He argued that the juvenile court in the 1996 improperly waived him to adult court and that a lesser sentence would help “resolve my situation” and “restore my rights as a citizen.”
“That is why essentially I keep putting the emphasis on the juvenile court because I felt that was my only shot at being treated and being where I’m at as a person,” he said.
He further said he has made efforts to better himself while in prison, such as entering into an apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor in June 2016.
Barrows said a deferred sentence is not an option on a first-degree murder charge under Iowa criminal code.
Hardin has 30 days to file a notice of appeal.