Cory Gregory, serving a 45-year sentence for the 2005 murder of 16-year-old Adrianne Reynolds, will get a new sentencing hearing, a Rock Island County judge ruled Monday.
Judge Peter Church granted the 31-year-old’s petition during a hearing in Rock Island County Circuit Court. Gregory was 17 when he and co-defendant Sarah Kolb, then 16, strangled Reynolds in a car at a Moline restaurant. He must serve 42.5 years before being considered for parole, which will be a few months before his 60th birthday.
In granting the petition, Church cited a landmark Illinois Supreme Court ruling made last month. It says a juvenile's sentence of more than 40 years is an unconstitutional “de facto” life sentence when imposed without consideration of the defendant's "youth and its attendant characteristics."
Following the hearing, Rock Island County Assistant State's Attorney Alex Geocaris filed an appeal, and a motion to keep Gregory in prison pending appeal. A date on the motion has not been set.
Reynolds family in 'disbelief'
Reynolds’ stepmother, Joanna Reynolds, said the family was notified last week about the hearing.
Her response, she said, “was just disbelief that this is happening.”
Gregory admitted to his role in the murder when she met with him in prison, Joanna Reynolds said.
“I don’t see how Cory Gregory can think he got too much time when he gave Adrianne the death penalty,” she said. “And remember: We spoke privately in the jail with Cory, and he told us he held the belt around her neck (during the murder).”
Reynolds said Gregory has portrayed himself as “heroic,” because he led police to the teen’s remains. She doesn’t see it that way.
“They (police) probably would have found some of her remains on the farm (in Mercer County),” she said. “I’d just like to tell Cory Gregory he shouldn’t count his chickens before they hatch, because I don’t think he’s going to get any time taken off his sentence.”
Tony Reynolds said Gregory expects to get credit he doesn’t deserve for leading police to the body.
When Gregory’s attorney pointed out the police may not have found the scattered and hidden remains without Gregory’s help, Tony Reynolds said, he lashed out.
“I said, ‘For real?’” he recalled Monday. “Without Cory Gregory, there wouldn’t have been a body to find.’”
Gregory's lawyer: We know more now about juvenile brain development
Gregory, who is in the Pontiac Correctional Center, was not at Monday’s hearing, but his lawyer, Nate Nieman, was happy with the judge’s ruling.
“There’s a lot we know now about juveniles and their brain development, which is where this whole movement has come from … that juvenile’s brains don’t work the same way as adults,” he said. “I’m happy for my client that he’s going to be able to have the court consider those factors for youth and hopefully that will result in a lower sentence for him.”
Nieman filed a petition for relief for Gregory in March 2017, arguing constitutional errors were made at the trial court level and on appeal.
At a hearing in May 2018, Nieman argued Gregory’s 45-year sentence is unconstitutional because it is a “de facto” life sentence, and pointed to rulings from the Supreme Court and legislative changes that direct sentencing judges to consider factors like age and maturity, the ability to consider risks and consequences, and peer and outside influences when sentencing juveniles.
In March 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided imposing a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile offender without considering the offender's age and its “attendant characteristics” was unconstitutional.
The Illinois Supreme Court in 2016 decided that ruling encompasses “de facto” life without parole sentences. The state's highest court said the General Assembly “has determined that the specified first-degree murders that would justify natural life imprisonment for adult offenders would warrant a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years for juvenile offenders.”
“In determining when a juvenile defendant’s prison term is long enough to be considered de facto life without parole, we choose to draw a line at 40 years. This specific number does not originate in court decisions, legal literature, or statistical date. It is not drawn from a hat. Rather, this number finds its origin in the entity best suited to make sure a determination — the legislature. “
Following the Supreme Court ruling, prosecutor Geocaris filed an addendum to his motion to dismiss the petition, arguing the sentencing judge considered Gregory’s youth and its attendant characteristics when imposing the sentence. He said juveniles can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or a de facto life imprisonment only if the trial court considers those factors in imposing sentence.
Geocaris could not be reached Monday for comment.
Illinois Supreme Court case has 'huge' implications statewide
Nieman said the Illinois Supreme Court decision is "huge."
"It’s easily one of the most important decisions to come down from the Illinois Supreme Court in years for criminal cases," he said. "So, it’s going to have a very wide impact on a number of juvenile offenders that are in the Department of Corrections."
Nieman said the ruling could have an impact on Kolb's 48 year sentence for murder. She filed a successive petition for post-conviction relief in January 2018 and also argued her sentence was a de facto life sentence.
Reporter Barb Ickes contributed to this story.