There’s nothing unconstitutional about sending a juvenile to prison for the rest of his life for a series of arson fires in Tucson, the Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled.
Judge Karl Eppich, writing for a divided panel, acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose a life sentence on juvenile offenders who do not commit homicide. And a separate ruling from the nation’s high court found that prison without the possibility of parole is a violation of the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment unless the juvenile’s crimes “reflect irreparable corruption” rather than “transient immaturity.”
But Eppich said Arizona courts are not bound by those rulings, at least not in this case. He said nothing in those precedents address consecutive sentences, like the 140-year term imposed on Mark Kasic Jr. for setting the fires, a sentence that effectively becomes a life term.
That reasoning by Eppich and appellate Judge Philip Espinosa drew a stinging dissent from appellate Judge Peter Eckerstrom.
“They have embraced a regime in which juveniles who commit a lone murder are entitled to potential sentencing relief while those who, like Kasic, commit a sequence of crimes — where no person is killed — are not,” Eckerstrom wrote, a system he said is hardly proportional.
“This result should give the majority pause,” he said.
In 2009 a jury found Kasic guilty of 32 felonies arising from six arsons and one attempted arson committed over a one-year period beginning when he was 17, though some occurred after he became an adult.
According to court records, most of the arsons on the east side of Tucson involved occupied residences.
All of the fires were set in the same manner, with Kasic entering a carport or storage unit between midnight and daybreak — while the residents were asleep — gathering flammable materials and setting them on fire.
A city fire investigator called Kasic “the most prolific I’ve seen.”
“He seems like he knew exactly what he was doing,” said Thomas Quesnel. “We’re lucky someone didn’t get killed.”
Kasic sought relief from his sentences based on the most recent Supreme Court rulings about life terms for juveniles.