Will Trina Garnett's Life Sentence be Overturned After 40 Years in Prison?
Is Trina Garnett Finally Going Home After 40 Years in Jail?
Now that Trina Garnett has spent 40 years in jail for starting a fire that caused the accidental death of two of her friends when she was 14, Pennsylvania's mandatory sentencing laws may finally be overturned and Trina may finally get to go home.
Trina Garnett and the Lady Lifers Present Their Story
Trina Garnett and the Lady Lifers
Trina Garnett's Childhood
Above is a moving song presented by women that are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania. The last woman to introduce herself in the video, is Trina Garnett.
Trina lost her mother at the age of 9 and was subject to horrific mental and physical abuse by her alcoholic father. She was the youngest of 12 children and was homeless for the majority of her childhood. She has a low IQ, learning disabilities and was later diagnosed with Schizophrenia. She spent two years in the state mental hospital at her grandmother’s request, from ages 11-13. When Trina was 13, she was released from the state hospital against her doctor’s orders and stopped taking her medication.
Trina Garnett's Mistake and Trial
A few months after she left the mental hospital, at age 14, Trina became upset that her neighbor, Mrs. Harvey, wouldn’t allow her 2 sons to play with Trina and set the Harvey's house on fire in the middle of the night. It was about 1:40 am on August 29, 1976. The two boys, Brian and Derrick Harvey, 13 and 6 respectively, died in the fire.
Although the deaths were accidental, she was tried for and convicted of arson and two counts of second degree murder. During her trial Trina had been shown to be incapable of remembering her court appointed lawyer’s name for more than a few minutes or of doing simple arithmetic. However, because of a previous accident in which she burned herself as a 5 year old child, the prosecution argued that she should have known that matches can cause serious damage.
Trina Garnett's Sentencing
Although she had been declared incompetent to stand trial twice, she was tried as an adult when a third investigation deemed her competent to stand trial. Because of Pennsylvania’s mandatory sentencing laws, which hand out punishments for specific crimes without allowing the judge to use his own discretion or lawyers to present mitigating evidence, Trina Garnett was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. Trina’s sentencing judge is quoted as having called her case one of the “saddest I’ve ever seen.”
Early into Trina’s sentence, she was raped by a prison guard. She later gave birth to a son, Rodney, who is in the care of Trina’s sisters. Trina has since been diagnosed with MS and is in declining health. She has spent more than 38 years in prison for 2 accidental deaths that occurred when she was just 14 years old and mentally ill. Without a change of the law, Trina has no hope for parole and will spend the rest of her life in jail.
In the touching TedX video (above) Trina Garnett sings: "My number is 005545. My name is Trina Garnett. I have been incarcerated for 37 years, since I was 14 years old. Born and raised in Chester, Pennsylvania. And this is not home."
What Mandatory Sentencing Laws Did to Trina Garnett
Overturning Mandatory Sentencing Laws
In Jackson v Hobbs and Miller v Alabama, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole for those under 18 unconstitutional by the 8th amendment.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
In January 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled on Montgomery v Louisiana, which enforces the ruling of Miller v Alabama and Jackson v Hobbs, retroactively. This means that Trina's case is eligible for re-sentencing. This time, a life sentence without parole is not mandatory.
Lawyers from the Equal Justice Initiative have filed a post-conviction petition for resentencing for Trina that is now pending before Pennsylvania's supreme court.