FLINT, MI – A man sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1992 may be getting out of prison soon after he was resentenced Monday as part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that deemed mandatory jail terms for juveniles unconstitutional.
Eddie D. Spiller was 17 in 1992 when he had planned to commit a robbery with two co-defendants, but the group later decided against it.
Spiller was trying to unload a gun that was to be used in the robbery when it accidentally went off – shooting and killing Ricky Taylor on Feb. 1, 1992, according to Spiller’s attorney Sofia Nelson.
Spiller was sentenced to life in prison for Taylor’s murder on Stone Street in Flint.
“I have the opportunity to perhaps lay the groundwork to return you to your family,” said Genesee Circuit Judge Richard B. Yuille, as a group of Spiller’s family and supporters gasped and began crying. “It makes me feel good.”
There were cheers and tears inside Yuille’s courtroom on Oct. 22 after Yuille gave Spiller a new sentence of 27 to 60 years in prison.
“I look forward to hugging him,” said Spiller’s sister, Ciara Spiller. “We’ve been fighting for his release for such a long time. We think about the family who lost a loved one and we pray for them every day.”
Spiller has credit for almost 25 years in prison and his attorney told his family he could be paroled in the next six months because of the education and other credits for good behavior he earned while in prison.
“To the family of Ricky Taylor – ignorance cannot be an excuse,” Spiller, now 44, told the court on Monday. “I sincerely apologize for what I put you though. An apology will never be enough. I am not a child of ’92. I am not reckless or impulsive. I have been remorseful for a long time. I am not a danger. I have become a man of sound mind and heart.”
The nation’s highest court said its 2012 ruling invalidating mandatory life sentences for juveniles as a form of cruel and unusual punishment applied retroactively.
Judges can still sentence juvenile offenders to life sentences, but the sentence must be handed down after the judge is able to analyze the merits of the case.
The Genesee County cases that have the potential for resentencing date back as far as 1975, and include convicts who were as young as 15 at the time of the killing.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said his office was unable to contact Taylor’s family.
“We thought in the interest of justice and fairness that Spiller be given an opportunity for parole,” Leyton said. “We looked at his reentry plan. He does have family support and an opportunity to have an income. He has support from his church community.”
Under Michigan law, first-degree murder was punishable only with life in prison without parole.
However, Gov. Rick Snyder in 2014 gave judges the discretion to sentence teen killers to life in prison or 25 to more than 60 years in prison to comply with the Supreme Court decision.
In 2016, in a 6-3 decision, the nation’s highest court said its 2012 ruling invalidating mandatory life sentences for juveniles as a form of cruel and unusual punishment applied retroactively.
“I represent a lot of juvenile lifers – what the U.S. Supreme Court has said is these sentences are only constitutional if the individual has no chance to be rehabilitated,” Nelson said. “I feel strongly that people can change and we have to look at how they have changed and give them a second chance.”
Eddie Spiller has housing set up and will be employed through the Money, Attitude, Direction, Education Institute (MADE), according to his sister.
“Second chances are rare,” Ciara Spiller said. “This is an opportunity where he will be able to devote himself to society.”
Spiller will have to go before the Michigan Department of Corrections parole board and could be back in Flint in as little as six months, Nelson said.