On Thursday, December 10, Erie County Court Judge Sheila DiTullio sentenced Buffalo 14-year-old Jean Sanchez to nine years to life in prison for the May 2014 killing of 13-year-old Ameer al Shammari. Sanchez pleaded guilty to second degree murder in October, the same week his trial was set to begin. Although his defense lawyer wanted to move the case to family court, Judge DiTullio ruled that the case would stay in county court because of the nature of the crime and Sanchez’s violent behavior in juvenile detention.
Noted criminal defense attorney Barry Covert was asked for his legal analysis of Sanchez’s sentence. The full story is available on the WGRZ website.
Lighter sentence due to age
In May 2014, Ameer al Shammari was found strangled to death in the Black Rock neighborhood of Buffalo. Police reported that al Shammari had also been sexually assaulted. According to WGRZ, Sanchez’s attorney said that his client killed al Shammari because he had stolen the teen’s cell phone and didn’t want to get in trouble. When al Shammari tried to get his phone back, prosecutors report that Sanchez took him into a field and choked him first with a shoelace and then with a drawstring from the victim’s hoodie.
Sanchez pleaded guilty to second degree murder in October and, on December 10, was sentenced to nine years to life in prison. Defense attorney Barry Covert says that this sentence is lighter than it otherwise would have been due to Sanchez’s age. “He was 13 years old at the time that the crime was committed so, rather than sentencing him as an adult where he could have faced up to 25 years to life in jail, [Judge DiTullio] gave him nine years to life,” he told WGRZ. “So he got quite a benefit due to his age.”
Defense challenges sentencing
When asked if Judge DiTullio was required to give Sanchez a lighter sentence than an adult would have received, Mr. Covert said that she was, even though he took a plea as an adult. “Because of his age,” he said, “she was by statute required to sentence him, at the low end, five years to life or, at the high end, nine years.” Mr. Covert went on to tell WGRZ that this sentence is not unusual, even though Sanchez’s defense attorney “really feels strongly here that it was inappropriate to not have sent this case over to family court.” Mr. Covert explained that this is because, “if [Sanchez] was 12 years old, three months earlier, he wouldn’t be able to be charged as an adult at all.” Once Sanchez has served the first nine years of his sentence, Mr. Covert told WGRZ, he will appear before the parole board every two years until his release.
About Barry Covert
Mr. Covert, a senior partner in Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, is known for his aggressive representation of clients in the areas of New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; driving while intoxicated; constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense. Mr. Covert frequently provides legal analysis for WGRZ and other media outlets.